October 29, 2012
What may happen

The time is ripe for speculation.

It is always time to speculate about political this or that, but now it is especially ripe, in both of my countries. Moreover, events we can speculate about in one give us additional reason to speculate about the other.

Most pressing as stimuli is the super storm, coinciding with the last week of the presidential campaign and maybe even affecting transport and electricity on election day.

It's already lowered stock markets in Israel and Europe, due to fears for unpredictable consequences, and canceled trading in New York. Will it aid Barack Obama while demonstrating his presidential presence as he orders this and that to save lives? Or will it hurt him by one or more of the following:
•If the storm is as great as predicted, no amount of presidential effort can save the incumbent from underlings who screw up, or the power of nature that is too great for him or anyone else.
•Looming in the possibilities is the enormity of more than 400,000 people ordered to move out of harm's way. Not only is that a profound undertaking, demanding a great deal of administrative skill and good luck to be done well, but there is the possibility of some evacuees behaving like those of New Orleans. The last thing that Obama needs is media coverage of racially-tinged violence in crowded places of refuge.
•And there is the simpler possibility that enough people avoid voting to tip things against Obama. His constituency is likely to be more vulnerable to the problems of messy streets, uneliable transportation, and everything else that can make it easier to stay home.

Overall, it looks like a plus for Romney, but an effective campaign of emphasizing Obama's presidentialness, and good fortune that nothing goes terribly wrong can make it a plus for Obama. However, there is an awful lot that can happen badly. It probably won't be Obama's fault, but blame will be amorphous, media driven, and political, and will not fall evenly across states whose electoral votes are crucial to one candidate or another.

Romney has it in his Mormon genes to be helpful. Better than drumming up votes safely away from the northeast would be to role up his sleeves, bring along his children and aides, and look enthusiastic and serious for the media while filling sand bags, or serving coffee in an effort to appear ecumenical.

The stimulus of speculation here comes from the continued rocket attacks from Gaza. They are averaging about one an hour. The IDF has spread leaflets over Gaza warning residents to move away from residential areas where rockets are fired, and ordering them to say at least 300 meters from the border with Israel. That's a considerable distance in Gaza, which in some places is barely 5000 meters wide.

Does this mean that Israel's leaders are preparing to do something about the rockets, more than the standard stuff of liquidating a guilty individual or bombing a facility likely to be empty? Although most of the rockets do no damage, they create great anxiety, and demands for quiet. Israel also has a looming election, which adds to the weight of public opinion.

The leaflets may have been nothing more than a message for Gaza's activists, to cool it or else.

However, the great storm presents an opportunity. It is already prominent in the world's media, and monopolizing that of the United States. If predictions are right, it will stay that way, or even increase for the next days, or until after the election.

Now you figure what may happen here while attention is elsewhere.

Remember, this is all speculation. No assurances, or even hypothetical probabilities.


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 07:46 AM
October 27, 2012
Richard Falk, Benyamin Netanyahu, and Avigdor Lieberman

Richard Falk is again in the headlines. The Professor Emeritus of Political Science, after a long career at Princeton, now the Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council on Occupied Palestinian Territories, has called for a boycott of companies that do business with Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

This is against the background of a 2010 report Falk authored, that carried such headings as
•Continuing expansion of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories
•The de facto annexation of East Jerusalem
•Expulsions from East Jerusalem as a means to annexation
•West Bank roads and international complicity in perpetuating the occupation

Continuation of the Gaza blockade

•Abuse of children by Israeli authorities in the occupied territories

There is nothing in the 2010 report, or Falk's most recent recommendations, about Palestinian intransigence or internal conflicts that stand in the way of settling the conflict, or the tens of thousands of rockets and other kinds of violence that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank continue to direct against Israeli civilians.

Falk thereby establishes himself in the long line of Jews who have taken extreme and one-sided positions against Israeli or Jewish interests. Richard Goldstone and Noam Chomsky are in the same cluster, along with some lesser known Israeli academics who urge boycotts against their own country and universities. Currently among our squabbles is one concerned with political scientists at Ben Gurion University who have so turned their Department of Politics and Government into an anti-Zionist bastion as to bring the Council of Higher Education--with a reputation that is respectful of academic freedom--to order its closure. Falk et al belong in the same encyclopedia article with medieval Jews who sought favor with Christian churchmen and princes by telling them of "anti-Christian" material in the Talmud. Thanks to them, Jews altered their sacred texts, and while some editions still note opinions about the proper relationship of Jews with "goyim," other editions fudge the issue by referring to "Egyptians," "Romans," or "pagans."

Falk's reports are so extreme as to attract condemnation not only from Israel's representative to the United Nations, but also from those of the United States and other western governments. According to an official American statement (issued 18 months in advance of the 2012 election)

"The report's conclusions and recommendations are seriously flawed. The Special Rapporteur fails to adequately address the responsibility of Hamas in the lead up to the Gaza conflict, and indeed, seeks to minimize that responsibility. Falk also fails to address the real and serious abuses and violations of international law by Hamas in Gaza as it seeks to promote its radical agenda and entrench itself in power, including everything from unlawful killings to harassing NGOs, limiting their ability to provide humanitarian assistance. The Special Rapporteur also deliberately misconstrues elements of U.S. efforts to advance a comprehensive Middle East peace. His call for further boycotts and divestments from Israel is highly inappropriate, and, if implemented, would only serve to heighten tensions in the region and move the parties further from peace."

There is an intriguing contrast between Falk and two Israeli politicians.

The latest Falk flap comes at the same time as the announced union between two Israeli political parties in the run-up to this country's election. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu (Likud) and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Israeli our Home) have created a party they call Likud our Home.

The two individuals have worked closely, separated, and again came together since Lieberman's first serious political office as Director-General of Likud when Netanyahu was party leader 1993-96, and then Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office during Netanyahu's first term 1996-97.

Initial responses to the party union from centrist and leftist politicians branded it extremist. Some Likud Members of Knesset also expressed their opposition. They accused their party head of moving too far to the right, perhaps out of concern that bringing politicians from Israel our Home into Likud would reduce their own chances of getting a high enough place on the new party's list to assure their return to the next Knesset.

A fairer assessment is that the Netanyahu-Lieberman combine is right of center, but not extremist. Lieberman himself has moderated his pronouncements as Foreign Minister. Some Likud MKs accuse him of not being sufficiently clear in support of settlements. Labor Party leader Shelli Yehimovitch, when pressed by an interviewer to say that she would never coalesce with Likud our Home, avoided ruling out her participation in a post-election coalition with the new party. Individuals affiliated with Israel our Home in the current government, notably Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovich, have both acted as responsible professionals, reflecting their backgrounds in the Foreign Ministry and the Police. They would fit with any left-of-center to right-of-center Israeli government.

Speculation is that the Netanyahu-Lieberman union will push three or four claimants of leading the Israeli center (Livni, Lapid, Mofaz, Olmert) to form some kind of unity. Until now, however, none of these self-appointed Messiahs have been able to accept second place on anyone else's party list.

The moderation of the Israeli government (including Netanyahu and Lieberman in key positions since 2009) appears in the contrast between Israel's actions vis a vis Gaza and the hyperbole of Richard Falk. Not only have Israel's responses to periodic episodes of rockets and other attacks been measured and directed against individuals involved in the violence, but the moderation is apparent in what has not been discussed. Politicians, military personnel, and the media have avoided talking about some potentially juicy targets, including high-rise, upscale apartment blocks, that could--in an explicit--tit for tat--be turned to dust along with their occupants in response to rockets aimed at Sderot, Ashkelon, Beer Sheva, and other Israeli cities and towns.

Gaza has miserable slums, but also some spiffy developments seldom portrayed by those concerned to emphasize Gazans' suffering. Pictures are available here, here, and here.

Most rockets from Gaza land in empty fields, and most of those aimed at cities are brought down by Israeli anti-missile missiles. However, enough get through to civilian areas to cause deaths, injuries, property damage, and a great deal of anxiety. Israeli governments, including that led by Netanyahu and Lieberman, absorb the considerable domestic criticism about their inability to stop the violence coming from Gaza rather than ordering artillery and air strikes that in a matter of minutes could demonstrate to Gaza the cost of targeting Israeli civilians.

Those who know what U.S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman did to the Confederacy, what Harry Truman did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the British did to Dresden may be asking why Israel does not do it to Gaza. Or maybe to Tehran.

The Israeli reality is that such options are not in the discussion.

You want extremism?

Look to Richard Falk and not to Israel.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Tel: +972-2-532-2725

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


Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:47 AM
October 24, 2012
The American election from outside

Among the complaints I have received about my notes touching the American election are:
•Mind your own business.
•Israel should take care of itself.
•The United States has done enough for you.

You don't understand American politics.

•Domestic issues will shape the election, not foreign policy.

I have little doubt that domestic issues will be primary in the minds of most American voters, I do claim an understanding of what happens in my other country, and it is my business as well as that of just about everyone else in the world.

The United States, since World War II, has involved itself in other countries' affairs, perhaps more than any other country. It has claimed to be "leader of the free world." It was creator and remains the principal actor in international alliances, most notably NATO, whose membership and self-defined mandate has gone far beyond the North Atlantic. The United States is a major source of United Nations funding. It is difficult to identify a country whose policies it has not sought to influence, or a country that has not sought to influence American policies of concern to its own government and people.

Currently Israel is especially prominent on the American agenda, while American intentions are high on the concerns of Israeli officials and citizens. A count of country mentions in the recent debate between presidential candidates ranked Israel second only to Iran. The two countries are linked in the concerns of people who wonder with fear and trembling about what is going to happen.

Much of what the United States has done has been positive. The best example is Western Europe, coddled and pushed in the directions of being democratic and peaceful. The European Union and its well deserved Nobel Peace Prize represent the pinnacle of political achievements since the dark days of the 1940s and all those centuries before.

Were I to rank countries on the quality of social services, including public health, education and transportation, domestic peace and security, well managed government and public finance, the countries at the top of my list would be those of Western Europe. (Don't read that to include all of Western Europe, only most of it.)

Americans who bleat about the curses of European socialism are doing nothing but expressing the worst of their culture's parochialism and ignorance of other places.

Israel has also benefited from American generosity. Like America's relationship with Western Europe, its relationship with Israel has also paid off for the United States by way of its allies' cooperating--occasionally against the sentiments of their own public opinion--with US preferences.

The record of the United States is far from unblemished. We need go no further back for examples of extreme damage coming out of good, but innocent (in the sense of ignorant, rather than not-guilty) intentions than the most recent decade in this region. There are no credos due aspirations to reform Iraq and Afghanistan coming from George W. Bush, and Barack Obama's ringing endorsements of democracy and equality in Cairo along with his later abandonment of Hosni Mubarak and involvement in the Libyan civil war.

Numbers of casualties and responsibilities of the United States are impossible to pin down in the settings of many causes and tendentious counting. Iraq is an example, with official American estimates of those killed since 2003 on the low side near 100,000, while some non-governmental estimates range over one million. Also problematic is linking Obama's call for democracy with the onset of Arab spring. But he can be counted among those encouraging the fantasy of democracy in the Muslim Middle East, and therefore he must take some responsibility for the 50,000 or so deaths so far estimated for Libya and Syria, and the lesser violence but no lesser uncertainties of what will become of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt.

US Secretary of State Clinton's comment that violence is a regrettable, but temporary problem on the way to democracy should be close to the top of any one's list of what should be condemned. American indifference to death, dislocations, and who knows how much injury and personal suffering recalls some lesser figures of world history. I may be cursed for mentioning Bush and Obama in the same sentence with Josef Stalin and Pol Pot, but they, too, claimed good intentions.

None of this brings me any closer to a preference about the current political campaign.

It is common to fault Barack Obama for an excessive tilt toward Palestinians, along with a syrupy embracing of a superficial knowledge of Islam and Muslim culture. His condemnations of Israelis for the failed peace process, and the quick abandonment of one of the region's most responsible and pro-American leaders in the expectation of democracy and equality in Egypt should be at the top of any one's minus column in the evaluation of the American president.

Yet this need not lead one to a simple decision in favor of his opponent. Mitt Romney has signed on to Israeli views of a failed peace process, due largely to Palestinian infighting and intransigence. That might be one good reason for someone concerned about Israel to vote for Romney. However, for those who are sure that Romney would be better--and could not be worse as manager of the world's greatest power--there were moments in the most recent debate to suggest that he might not be any different. His endorsement of Obama's abandonment of Mubarak can lead us outsiders who feel the impact of the United States to expect no great improvement from a Romney administration.

Whatever we think about Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, America is the business of everybody, including those without access to its voting booths. American accomplishments and disasters due to an assertion of world leadership since World War II put it high on all of our agendas. "Foreigners" have a right--perhaps an obligation--to make themselves heard in its political debates. We may have little confidence in the knowledge, experience, or wisdom of American voters with respect to one or another region of the world, but aspirations and actions of the American government provide ample justification for expressing our opinions.


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
October 22, 2012
Pre-election politicking, raw and fluid

The rawness of democratic politics does not appear in the most thrilling run-up to the final voting, but in the maneuvering at the early stages. Americans see it in presidential primaries, and even lower on the political food chain in jostling for nominations for governor, senator, House of Representatives, and even lower where the public largely ignores individuals wanting an office in a state or locality dealing with schools, sewage, water, parks, libraries, planning, or much else--most of which in other democracies is left to the professional civil service.

The rawness of Israel's democracy is now underway. Its politics are mostly national, insofar as there is some accuracy to the point that Israel is really one large urban area (think of the Los Angeles metropolis) in the guise of a country. Proportional representation based on voting for party lists rather than individuals means that parties are at the center of the commotion. If past practice is a guide, there will be something like 30 of them finally offering themselves to the voters, many of which will be new creations for this election, with probably only ten or so (most of them established parties) gaining the minimum percentage of the votes necessary to enter the Knesset.

Yet another feature is maneuvering within and between the ten or so parties that have been in the Knesset, and are likely to return. Some parties have primaries of dues-paying members to select and rank the individuals on their list. Others rely on a committee of party leaders to make the choices. For some, it is one rabbi or politician who pretty much decides the selection and ranking of individuals on the party list.

All told it is hard to follow this without some knowledge of parties' histories, ideology or theology, and the formal rules written into each party's constitution.

Among the events, or blips in an ongoing fluidity that will not resolve itself until the official date when the parties enrolled for the election will have to register their ranked lists of candidates:
•The ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi party, once called Agudat Israel, then Torah Judaism, shows signs of splitting, with a new party formed around an octogenarian rabbi, in protest against another octogenarian rabbi chosen somehow to replace the recently deceased nonagenarian rabbi who had been the leading figure in Torah Judaism's "Council of Sages." The Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox have done well in politics with high turnout and usual unanimity, but have also lost political opportunities due to squabbles among the rabbis.
•The Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party SHAS has settled its leadership struggle with one rabbi (and former minister until he was jailed for accepting bribes) given responsibility for managing the campaign, another rabbi and serving minister given responsibility for managing what happens on election day, and a third rabbi and serving minister given responsibility for the messages that the party will offer to the voters.
•SHAS may also make an effort to reach out beyond its ethnic and religious constituency, hoping to draw some secular voters, mostly likely those who have voted Likud.
•Avigdor Lieberman's Israel our Home is also nipping at the heels of Likud, as it is trying to appeal beyond its largely Russian-speaking constituency, said to have supplied up to 80 percent of its votes.
•At least two competing leaders of the university student-Yuppie demonstrations of a year ago are competing among themselves and with the chair of Peace Now for places on the Labor party's list.
•An entirely new entity has appeared on the party firmament, with a commitment to imposing control on the "tycoons" who have amassed considerable wealth and have gained favorable, but not-so popular rulings from governmental bodies. Such a narrow focus is not unusual in Israeli politics. Previous elections have seen the rise and decline of a Taxi-drivers' party, a Pensioners' party, several parties favoring the legalization of marijuana and other goodies, and parties seeking better deals or more prominence for one or another of the middle-sized Jewish ethnic communities.
•Getting more headlines than any of the above are the ditherings of Ehud Olmert and Yair Lapid. One is well known as a former prime minister and the other as a former media personality. As yet unknown is whether Olmert will seek to overcome the burdens of several trials for corruption and capitalize on indications of his political viability. Yair Lapid has formed a party, but has not yet indicated who he will select to join him on its list of candidates. Two days ago the media broadcast that a former head of an intelligence agency would be number two on Lapid's list, but more recent news is that he will not be number two. Among the possible explanations of the change: the former intelligence chief's subsequent position at the top of a major corporation does not look good for a party wanting to bring a new look to Israel; and what may be Lapid's aspirations to broaden his appeal by placing a rabbi in the number two spot.
•Also in the news is Tzipi Livni, former Likudnik before she was former head of Kadima. Will she or won't she create a new centrist party, with a primary mission of restarting the peace process, with or without Yair Lapid, with or without Ehud Olmert, and whatever her party would mean for the fortunes of Kadima? Kadima has been withering away with defections of prominent figures back to their Likud roots or elsewhere. It still exits, ostensibly led by former head of the IDF and then Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.
•There is also speculation about the future of Ehud Barak, another former IDF commander, former Prime Minister and currently Minister of Defense, one time head of the Labor Party until he departed to form a party called "independence," which may or may not have enough support to get back into the Knesset.

All this is mostly Jewish stuff. Individual Arab politicians do appear high on the lists of the largely Jewish parties, and Arabs vote for those parties. Most Arabs vote for three or four largely Arab parties that will gain a total of 10 or so seats in the Knesset, but render themselves irrelevant due to perpetual opposition of just about everything done by the Zionist government. Among the largely Arab parties is one that once was the Israel Communist party, which typically has one Jew high on its list, and gets votes from Jews proud of their Communism.

Confusing? Yes. Vibrant? Also. Hardly less so than American presidential primaries or the maneuvering at the bottom of American politics. Politics in the raw they may be, but the confusion and fluidity are also signs of healthy democracies sorting themselves out for another few years of government until the next election.

Political campaigns are the stuff of media excitement, family arguments, and sometimes nastiness, but the vast majority of what comes out of modern governments has little to do with electoral politics, or who wins at the polls. Well trained professionals, of the kind who would bring pride to the breasts of Otto von Bismarck and Max Weber, make most of the decisions considered governmental.

Political models significantly less admirable appear in the violence of the United States' southern neighbors and over Israel's borders with Syria and Lebanon, extremist religious proclamations heard from those claiming to be part of the new Egyptian regime, and much else in this part of the world from North Africa to the south and east.


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 05:03 AM
October 20, 2012
Catherine Ashton, Barack Obama, and Tom Bradley

Two items provoke this note. They come from points far apart, and do not have any obvious connection, but they both link up with larger issues provoking angst among Americans, Israelis, and some others.

One is the latest pronouncement by Catherine Ashton. She is well known as not the sharpest knife in anybody's drawer, kicked up to Europe by British politicians who had little use for her at home, but got herself into the impressively labeled position of High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, along with being a Vice-President of the European Commission.

She has come out against Israeli planning officials who approved the construction of some 800 new housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. That is in the southern section of the municipality, part of the area that Israel annexed to its capital in 1967, currently with some 40,000 residents, perhaps with as many Arabs and other non-Jews as our own post-1967 neighborhood of French Hill.

Ashton has reminded us that Gilo is illegal under her conception of international law, and that the most recent decision to build more housing comes at an especially difficult time. It adds yet another hurdle to the peace process, and the entire region needs calm rather than provocations.

The other item came to my in-box from an American friend who wrote about the Bradley effect. That is a political phenomenon named after a former mayor of Los Angeles who enjoyed pre-election polls showing him winning an election, but enough people who said they intended to vote for the politically correct choice of an African-American did something else in the privacy of the voting booth.

"I know a dozen or more Jewish, liberal, pro-Israel voters who supported Barack Obama in 2008--in some cases actively campaigned for him and raised considerable funds for his election--and who are quietly but decisively backing away in 2012 because of Obama's foreign-policy positions and record, especially vis-à-vis Israel. . . .

Many of these people I know are die hard liberals or outspoken progressives: . . . They support gay marriage and abortion rights ("women's healthcare" and "right to choose") and gun control and more progressive taxation and more government services and regulation. But they support Israel even more, so they will, reluctantly, vote for Romney, believing that he is the stronger on foreign policy in general and the U.S.-Israel relationship specifically (and even more specifically, on taking seriously the Iranian nuclear threat and being willing and able to change the mullahs' course). They believe that gun rights and gay rights and abortion and taxes are complicated enough and have enough political scrutiny and reversible enough that any setbacks to their liberal domestic agenda will be temporary and reversible . . . while challenges the survival of Israel and, potentially, the future of the free world may be neither temporary nor reversible in a future administration.

Admitting a mistake and "buyer's remorse" is never a comfortable social stand. But in this case, it's also not a politically correct position, as the majority of the liberals and progressives around them either disagree on the Israel issue or place much lower weight on it. Moreover, there's special sensitivity in the Jewish community to the accusation of "dual loyalties," the allegation that American Jews place a higher priority on Israel than on their American values. Voting for Romney, for these people, lends support to that premise, so they prefer to be private and quiet about their disaffection and defection."

This note came to me with a bold and italic heading, "NOT for attribution."

I queried if that was part of the Bradley effect.

The response:

"It absolutely . . . is . . . My best friends would disown me, and I would lose all credibility and professional effectiveness, if I came out of the closet as an Obama-skeptic, let alone a potential Romney voter."

It won't be easy, and maybe not possible, to measure whatever Bradley effect occurs among the small Jewish electorate. If it happens, however, it will not only be Jews who say aloud that they will vote the politically correct route of another term for the articulate African-American, and then do something else.

Taking a firm position against the continued construction for Jews in neighborhoods of Jerusalem was Barack Obama's most offensive--and ill-advised--action. The issue of Israel's unrecognized annexation of mostly empty areas to Jerusalem immediately after being attacked in 1967 lay quietly until awakened by the American president. If it was important for Obama, it could not be less so for Palestinians and Europeans.

It reminds me of the President's thrilling but ignorant advocacy of democracy and equal rights in Cairo, the onset of Arab Spring, continuing as instability most notably in Libya and Syria with combined death tolls somewhere above 50,000. The Palestinian president remains in office almost three years after the end of his term; the Palestinians of Gaza do not recognize him or Israel, while Europeans and Americans in key positions say that Israel has a responsibility to begin the peace process by halting construction for Jews in neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

Reason enough to vote against the incumbent, for anyone concerned not only about Israel, but about a minimum of wisdom in the office that claims world leadership?

Israel's government may not sit quietly. On the table is a report by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, laying out the legal justification for annexing additional areas of the West Bank. Earlier reports were that Netanyahu would file away the recommendation. More recently he is said to be inclined toward some kind of implementation. Is this prospect nothing more than a maneuver in Israel's election campaign? An opportunity perceived in the presence of greater than usual Arab chaos to normalize Israel's relationships with Jewish settlements? Or an angry response to nonsense like that from Catherine Ashton?

Even the possibility of additional annexations may be enough to excite Amrican and Europeans committed to their own views of the politically correct. We will hear more about Israel responsibility for derailing the Arab march toward democracy, equality, and all else that comes from enlightenment.

Stay tuned. This will remain interesting.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:55 AM
October 19, 2012
Less than enlightened

Current politics in the two countries I know best suggest that crowd mentalities are more prevalent than mass enlightenment.

Israelis wanting change are attracted by two out-of-office political veterans with criminal records. A poll headlined in Ha'aretz indicates that an as yet uncreated centrist party with Ehud Olmert among its leading names would garner more Knesset seats than Prime Minister Netanyahu and Likud. The spiritual leader of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party SHAS, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has decided that Ariyeh Deri, once the party's golden boy until he was convicted, sentenced, and served 22 months of a three year sentence for accepting bribes (released early for good behavior) will return to the party's leadership along with the current Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

Americans have not searched police files for their current idols, but their attractive and well-spoken President may win a second term despite a record in the important region across North Africa and on to Pakistan that would be laughable if it was not associated with human tragedies suffered by Americans and the peoples they claim to be helping. One can play the game of pick the most foolish by comparing the President's comments beginning in 2009 with those of his Secretary of State and Ambassador to the United Nations. One of those worthies has claimed that the violence associated with Arab spring is only a temporary blip on the way to democracy and equality, while the other claimed that the killing of the Ambassador to Libya was only a crowd response to an ugly Islam film, and thus nothing that shows a fundamental problem in a region full of promise.

The area from Morocco to Pakistan and down through much of Central Africa does not operate like Middle America, but the President and key aides express themselves as if it does.

Campaigns in both Israel and America suggest that the fears of the American founders who wrote the Federalist Papers, and well known Greeks and Romans who wrote millennia before them, were wise to fear the prospect of the rabble getting its hands on government. Greeks wrote about demagogues, and Romans described the appeal of bread and circuses.

Since those days (i.e., 1789 or more than 2000 years earlier), there have been great strides in mass education. Nonetheless, Americans who aspire to four more years of Barack Obama and his colleagues, and Israelis who think that Ehud Olmert and Ariyeh Deri hold the key to their future remind us of those hoary fears.

Significant numbers of Americans and Israelis also give high priority to what a nasty skeptic might call religious fantasies. The manifestations are different, but problematic in both places. Americans express their religious feelings most explicitly in connection with abortion and everything to do with homosexuality. Christian enthusiasts also line up against taxes, public health care, and gun control. Whether those issues have their origin somewhere in theology would keep us arguing far into the night, but the clustering of attitudes suggests that God may be at work in the whole package.

Religiosity in Israel comes along with enthusiasm for settling the whole of the Promised Land among the Orthodox who describe themselves as Religious Zionists. Concerns of the ultra-Orthodox focus more on Sabbath, kashrut, public support for a lifetime of study by men of material that has no bearing on their capacity to support themselves, along with government money for housing and other goodies for large families with intense commitments to being fruitful and multiplying.

Secular cynics have to put up with all of the above in Israel, and in the America that prides itself in being the teacher and protector of all that is good.

It's far from ideal, but could be worse. The authors of the Federalist Papers, their successors in America, and government architects from the time of the Magna Carta onward in Britain and after Napoleon in Western Europe crafted institutions to minimize the damage from what is now a mass electorate. The United States works better than feared by Hamilton and Madison.

A great deal of military aid and cooperation has come to Israel during the Obama years, which confounds the image of a President who does not understand the Middle East. Perhaps the aid and cooperation reflects ties between the professionals of both countries that proceed despite what the leading American politician would really prefer. Or Barack Obama may be wiser than suggested by his public pronouncements.

In this connection we should remember the assertions of both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama that the problems associated with terror are not inherently about Islam, along with their both running the most ambitious anti-Muslim Crusade since Richard the Lionheart.

Israel has been stable and reasonable in its major policies despite pressures greater and more immediate than in any other western democracy. Any one wanting to know how bad it might have become need only read Josephus' War of the Jews.

Judaic morals described by the Prophets (God wants Justice more than ritual perfection: Amos 5) as well as institutions derived from British and Continental models protect Israelis of what could be imagined. Ariyeh Deri is free to run, but Ehud Olmert may be kept out of the race by an ongoing trial for corruption, and prosecutors intent to appeal a recent verdict of not guilty concerned with the receipt of cash-filled envelopes. The key witness about that matter was deemed close enough to senility to be unreliable, but there was a lot of money in those envelopes admittedly received by Olmert when he was serving in a government position.

Both Israel and the United States are lively democracies. But we also benefit from their different varieties of checks and balances, which include cadres of professionals who control finances, decide on criminal prosecutions, and administer the many other laws concerned with public services.

In short, government as it has developed in western democracies may be more reliable and enlightened than elected officials who claim to be in charge.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:15 AM
October 13, 2012
Bibi as pest and extremist

I'm directing this note against my Internet friends and many others who think that Benyamin Netanyahu is an extremist, against Barack Obama who has told a number of people that Netanyahu is a pest, and against analysts who assert that Israel is a marginal issue in the American election.

I concede that there is some truth in all of this, but it is also clear to me that Netanyahu has served Israel well by succeeding in putting Iran's nuclear program high on the international agenda. Pest he may be, but pest he should be, given all that Iran's leadership has said about Israel, and the ample evidence that it has spent years wasting the time of international worthies who would negotiate and move only slowly and gradually to serious sanctions.

Obama's complaints about Netanyahu--explicitly to Nicolas Sarkozy and by allusions to the public--rank as one of the President's least praiseworthy activities along with his insistence that Israel stop construction for Jews in neighborhoods of Jerusalem. He may have thought that such action would bring the Palestinian leadership to negotiations, and the onset of a breakthrough that others had sought for 40 or 60 years. However, those aspirations, as well as his public annoyance with Netanyahu, have marked him as equivalent to Mark Twain's "innocent abroad." If he is the best the United States could produce in their concern for world leadership, then Americans ought to work harder at their politics.

The latest from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that the United States must look past the violence and extremism that has erupted after the "Arab Spring" revolutions and boost support for the region's young democracies to forge long-term security, suggests the need for more copies in Washington of Mark Twain's classic. Clinton's claim to have found "those who are working every day to strengthen democratic institutions, defend universal rights, and drive inclusive economic growth" suggests that she is watching a different set of news clips from Libya, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Bahrain than the rest of us.

For what it's worth, a recent poll finds Jewish Israelis turning further against Obama, and seeing him moreo pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel.

Netanyahu's repeated complaints about Iran and his prodding of other national leaders have been nothing if not moderate. Against Iran's assertions that Israel should be destroyed, Netanyahu has made no threat about destroying Iran. And insofar as we can make some assumptions about present national capacities, it is Israel who can send Iran back into the Dark Ages. Iran, for its part, appears to be still some time away from being able to penetrate Israel's defenses with any serious destruction.

The latest news from two nations' politics is that Bibi remains on top of Israel's polls, while Obama is in trouble. The American election is on November 6th. Israel's election--recently announced-- will occur on January 22nd. A "theoretical cluster" of centrist and left of center parties might overcome Netanyahu, but there are personal egos and organizational rivalries in the way of that theoretical grouping. Those supporting the theoretical cluster will also have to cope with the recent conviction on a charge of corruption of the man mentioned as its theoretical leader, Ehud Olmert. Olmert told the court that he had no political aspirations, which was important in the court's decision not to add a component of "shame" to its guilty verdict, that would have kept him from running in near-term elections. Still pending is a decision of the prosecutors whether to appeal Olmert's not guilty verdict on another charge of corruption, and his ongoing trial for other varieties of corruption.

News from Iran is of sanctions that are hurting, and from Washington that additional tightening is coming. One can see Bibi's postering as prominent among the elements that has led Western govenments to impose sanctions, against their reluctance to give up the economic benefits from buying energy from Iran and selling it goods and services. It has not been hard to see implied threats in Bibi's statements, but nothing as explicit or as apocalyptic as coming from Iran.

Iran may be far from the principal issue in the American election, and far even from an issue likely to determine the votes of anything more than a small minority of American Jews. Yet it is visible enough, and arguably has been a factor in leading the President to announce a hardening of sanctions in response to the challenges of the Republican nominees, and well as the continuing pestiness of Israel's Prime Minister.

None of this makes Israel a "great power." Nevertheless, its history of its people, along with the resources of the IDF, and the crudeness of its adversary, have made it a factor of considerable weight.

Some of those who accuse Netanyahu of extremism focus on his actions with respect to settlements and the ultra-Orthodox. On both matters, he has done things that bother numerous Israelis and produce a quest for a more appealing party. That aspiration may prove elusive. Moreover, Netanyahu is not over the line that distinguishes conventional politics from extremism. He has maintained a coalition longer than any prime minister since the 1980s, or since the Palestinians began their restiveness and violence of Intifadas #1 and #2. He has given in to the settlers and the Haredim, sometimes in ways that seem close to personal support.. Insofar as the Israeli public has continued to record positive sentiments toward him and his Likud party at the polls and in surveys of public opinion, he hardly qualifies as an extremist.

Whether we like it or not, the settlers have gained considerable support, at least of the passive variety. Israelis give them what they want, perhaps due to frustration with Palestinians' inability to accept Israel and bargain an end to further settlement in a reasonable way. The Haredim, like the settlers, provoke oppositon within Israel, but they vote in something approaching unison, according to their rabbis' instructions. Along with the settlers, they represent a substantial slice of Jewish reality. And Israel qualifies--with or without international applause--as a Jewish democracy.

In the nature of Israel's parliamentary democracy, it will be some days, or more likely weeks, until we know who will be Netanyahu's competitors, and what will be the line-up of individual candidates on the lists of Likud and the other parties.

As has occurred in numerous previous elections, aspiring politicians are seeking to position themselves as ideal centrists. Newe parties claiming to be centrist have come and gone, with Kadima now on the verge of disappearing. All have suffered from a lack of ideological cement. Their avowed way of being pragmatic has worked for the conditions of an election or two, but no longer. They typically have formed around a personality with a modicum of prominence, but have suffered from hangers on who proved embarrassing. Currently on deck is the new and pretty face of Yair Lapid, who--according to speculation--may be risking his future by lining up with colleagues who may be seen as political has beens, (Tzipi Livni), or has beens with a police record (i.e., Haim Ramon and Ehud Olmert).

Both the American and Israeli national elections have the capacity to provoke deep thoughts about what they mean. Enough Americans to make a difference seem to be pondering the charm of having elected the first African-American president, along with his failure to produce anything close to the Change that he promised. Israelis seem untroubled by close neighbors who have been deep in their own problems for the past year and one-half. The "peace process" still touted by the White House is in deep coma. Iran raises the prospect of yet another Holocaust, but that issue may be too big for simple translation into a vote for or against one party or another.

From Freiburg im Breisgau, a lovely little city with lots of Stolpersteine.

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 10:50 PM
October 11, 2012
With Varda in Berlin

While Israel has turned to the politics of election, we have been digging around in the dark roots of Varda's history.

They are deep in Germany. Her father, Erich, was a patriot until his death. He was proud of his father's service in the German army during World War I (stationed on the Western Front somewhere against my father who was in an American uniform), and spoke about gravestones in the Jewish cemetery of Dusseldorf with his family name from centuries past. Cousin Kurt said that his branch of the family came to the Rhineland with the Romans.

Erich returned to Germany each summer until the age of 89. He walked the routes his nanny had pushed him in a carriage, attended reunions of his high school, and maintained close ties with classmates.

He brought us to his childhood home and the courtyard where he and his brother Karl played.

When he was speaking of Germany, family members knew we could not mention his mother or brother, on pain of the conversation ending in tears. Varda is the Hebrew equivalent of her grandmother's name, Rosa. She was sent from Dusseldorf to Theresienstadt, and then to one of the death camps further east. Varda recalls listening to the Israeli radio program that broadcast news of family members separated by the war, hoping to hear about Rosa. Varda was already married and a mother when she received from the tracing service of the Dutch Red Cross a record of where and when the Germans killed Rosa and Karl

We know individuals with similar backgrounds who range from strong aversion to anything German, to the embracing of German language, German culture, frequent visits to Germany, and acceptance of the citizenship that the German government has offered to individuals with some claim of a German background and to Jews of Israel and the former Soviet Union without such a background who want to become German.

Varda has tended toward the aversion side of the spectrum, but not obsessively so. She has traveled with me on Lufthansa with only mild protest due to its many good connections with places we like to visit. On numerous occasions she has used the well accented German she learned as a child with Lufthansa personnel. At other times, when a facility with German has seemed important, she has frozen, and I've been left to cope with my poorly pronounced, grammatically faulty, and insufficient vocabulary learned in college.

This is our first trip to Germany (as opposed to passing through the Frankfurt airport) since the death of Varda's aunt, who returned to Germany after a difficult refuge in Palestine/Israel. The occasion is our brother-in-law Moshe's sabbatical at the University of Freiburg, and the opportunity to visit with him, Varda's sister Gabi, and one of his Moshe's Freiburg colleagues and his family, who have become our close friends via their annual participation in the family's Passover Seder.

What took me by surprise was Varda's initiative to expand our visit with several days in Berlin. That was her mother Ina's town, and we traveled with the address of the home where Ina was a teenager until distant cousin Chaim Arlosoroff persuaded Ina's mother to leave Germany. That was shortly before Arlosoroff's own death, still a mystery, on a beach of Tel Aviv.

Our visit to the Holocaust memorial coincided with that of a German family and their teenage children, who did the German young thing of jumping gaily from stone to stone. The parents were subdued. Varda said she cried, when hidden from me somewhere in the narrow passageways. Jumping children did not bother her. As long as they came, the memorial will accomplish something.

The best part of Berlin, for both of us, is the closeness of nature to a bustling, traffic noisy city. Our long walks between our hotel and Unter den Linden went through the Tiergarten, with paths wide enough for walkers, runners, and bicycles, ponds, streams, and a working canal.

We finished with our morning hotel rituals too early on our second day to go directly to the Jewish Museum, so we went to Aschaffenburger Strasse 13, where Varda's mother was a teenager. On the way we passed a home with two Stolpersteine (stumbling stones), small memorial plaques in the sidewalk. These noted that Dr and Mrs Max Nova were residents of the adjacent building, until they were deported to Auschwitz and killed in 1943. (see attachment)

The Jewish Museum is not easy to decipher, purposely so, reflecting the history of Jews in Germany from the 10th century onward. There were good years and bad, with the pre-modern worse being the slaughter in the Rhineland by Crusaders, and then the pogroms associated with the Black Plague, said to be caused by Jews poisoning associated the wells. 19th and early 20th century were good years, with the educated, well-to-do and religiously liberal thinking of themselves as Germans as well as Jews, but with some of the intellectuals saying that Germans did not share that perception, and with many converting to Christianity to assure their acceptance. Members of Varda's family shared in the national identity and patriotism. One story is that Rosa was granted a concession in the 1940s on account of her husband's service in World War I. She was allowed to stay at home to nurse him through his final illness, and was only transported to her death after he died.

Among the exhibit was a painting and description of Rudolf Mosse, the grandfather of my late colleague and friend from both Madison and Jerusalem, Professor George Mosse. His wealth from reparations paid to the family for its ownership of the confiscated Berliner Tageblatt funds programs at the University of Wisconsin and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

There are explanations for the Museum's exhibits in German and English, but no Hebrew except for what is in the exhibits themselves, mostly those from religious texts used before the most recent centuries. Yet Hebrew is the principal language of half the world's Jews, with Hebrew speakers well represented among those who visited the Museum along with us .

By adding explanations in Hebrew the Museum could make another symbolic point--together with all its other symbols in the architecture--about what happened to much of German Jewry and that from other lands who survived what the Germans did to them. (On our earlier visit to Oslo's Holocaust Museum we also noted the lack of Hebrew explanations, but that is understandable in a city not so often visited by Israelis as Berlin.)

The "New Synagogue" was an icon in the history of Reform Judaism. It dates from the 19th century, was protected from Kristalnacht by a good German police officer but later destroyed by allied bombing, and has been partially restored as a museum.

The German Historical Museum begins with Germanic tribes, then goes from Charlemagne to Helmut Kohl. The explanations for the Nazi period were politically correct in specifying all the groups that suffered, including a notation of both Sinti and Roma for "Gypsies." Jews, correctly, receive special attention.

Visits to the museums of the New Synagogue and German History were on a gray, rainy day that gave us as many ghosts.as we could absorb. A walk through the Tiergarten was relaxing, but we talked about ghosts along the way.

Adding to the mood is Varda's reading a Hebrew translation of The Dark Room, by Rachel Seiffer. It deals with characters reflecting the author's personal experience, of Germans coping with what their grandparents did during the Third Reich.

On our last day we mastered public transportation to the Jewish cemetery of Weissensee, and found the graves of Varda's grossvater and a cousin who died young, sadly but naturally.

Still to go are several days with Gabi and Moshe in Freiburg. Gabi's mother tongue was German. It was only when Varda came along four years later that the family had converted to Hebrew, except for Ina's mother, who went to Palestine in her 60s and never learned the language. So German was Varda's second language, for speaking with Grandma and family friends. Gabi's involvement in Freiburg has not been easy, even though she enjoys the associations due the wife of a distinguished visiting professor. She has sent us pictures of two Stolpersteine which she found in the sidewalk of her neighborhood.

Elections are easier.


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 07:55 AM
October 06, 2012
A limited mea culpa

This is as close as you'll see to a mea culpa. Perhaps I misblogged when I let my cynicism about things American get the better of me, and chided the incident in an Eilat hotel where an American went postal, grabbed a gun from a security guard, killed one, barricaded himself in the kitchen, and was killed by an anti-terror squad.

I concluded with

"I'm sending this now in order to warn anyone on the way to the airport with a ticket to Israel, please leave your cultural proclivities behind."

One Internet friend responded that

"With all of the senseless violence in the middle east, you blame all of America because of one nut case. You have Jews doing the same, arabs doing the same, who knows whoever else doing the same. This is beneath you, and needs to be rethought."

Somewhat shorter was, "Another load of crap."

The latter was from an American who used to be a friend, but gave up that designation when he wrote about Israelis seeking lebensraum in the territories in order to find space for Russian immigrants.

The individual at the center of things was a New Yorker who had come to Israel on one of the programs that bring young Jews from overseas for a stint of touring, work, study, Yiddishkeit, and maybe eventual immigration. Managers of the program that accepted him now claim that there had been problems, and he had been terminated before the incident. They are re-examining how they screen applicants.

We've enjoyed hosting young relatives, and relatives of relatives who have come on Birthright and other programs. However, we have also encountered misfits among the Americans who come to Israel searching for something they can't find at home.

Baruch Goldstein and Meir Kahane were not the best representatives of immigration from the United States.

I'll admit to mistreating a tragedy. Two people died. Most likely families of the killer as well as the killed are distraught. However, I will not retract my comments about the American nature of the incident. Such things are more typical of the United States than any other country generally described as western, democratic, and enlightened. The archetype may have been Columbine, one or another fast food restaurant or university. My memory goes back to 1966, when a student and former Marine shot from a tower at the University of Texas. "Going postal" is American in origin, usually attributed to excessive demands and other workplace pressures.

"The expression derives from a series of incidents from 1983 onward in which United States Postal Service (USPS) workers shot and killed managers, fellow workers, and members of the police or general public in acts of mass murder. Between 1986 and 1997, more than forty people were gunned down by spree killers in at least twenty incidents of workplace rage."

My guess is that most of the Americans reading my notes are untroubled by violence, not highly concentrated where they live and travel. Some reside in gated communities. Overall, however, the United States scores higher on the incidence of murder per 100,000 population than any other country in the cluster of Western Europe, Israel, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Finland is the closest to the US, at 52 per cent of the US rate. Many Israelis carry guns as a matter of course, but they are regulated with far more stringency than in the United States, and the murder rate is only half that of the US. Overall the murder rate for Western Europe is less than a quarter of the US rate. Within the United States people in Louisiana are more than ten times as likely to kill one another than those in Iowa, Vermont, or New Hampshire.

This was not the first time, and will not be the last of my stomping on the sensitive feelings of friends and relatives. My antennae attuned to sophisticated comparisons tell me that all countries are unique, some are stranger than others, and the United States is among the strangest of all. Those who actually read these notes know my comments about American views on taxes, government, health care, gun control, abortion, single sex couples etc etc. Having been a fat little boy myself, I avoid comment about the size of Americans, but there is that, too.

My next insult against just about everyone will come from seeing bits of the Obama-Romney debate, and the responses of Americans. Start with the realization that I don't have a dog in this fight. While I'm fascinated by politics and view it as the essence of civilization, I have never been a party member or political activist. I voted at various times for each party in the United States; decided when I came here that I would no longer exercise my right to vote in the US, and have voted for three different parties over the course of several elections in Israel. I take pride in the fact that when Tamar and Mattan were still living at home, there was one election when the four of us voted for four different parties. We talked about it at some length, without anyone raising a voice.

Currently I perceive that Obama has not been good for Israel or the larger Middle East. His stumbling and bumbling may come from innocence, ignorance, or an affinity for his Muslim father. Who knows? On the other hand, Romney and his coterie of Republicans are something from the Middle Ages in their attitudes about government, taxation, health care, other social programs, abortion, same sex marriage and a few other things.

What fascinated me most about the debate was the responses. Some two-thirds of Americans thought the showman was more presidential than the cerebral.

God bless America. Overall America has been good for the world, but not entirely so. Its people need all the help they can get, as do the rest of us.


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 12:53 AM
October 04, 2012

My colleague Shlomo Avineri is one of Israel's wisest. His academic fields are political philosophy, European and Zionist politics. He had a stint at the peak of policymaking as Director General of the Foreign Ministry, and is a frequent contributor to op-ed pages of Israeli and overseas newspapers.

Most recently he wrote about foreign money in Israel's government. An English translation is headlined, "Foreigners taking over Israeli democracy."

Avineri begins with the report that "Of the 46 people who contributed money to Benjamin Netanyahu for the Likud leadership primary last January, 37 were Americans."

Avineri touches on one of the most interesting features of Israel that is heart warming and troublesome at the same time, i.e., the porous boundaries of the country and its people. Here the borders at issue are not those of geography--no less troublesome but in a different way--between Israel, Palestine and other neighbors in the Middle East, but the spiritual borders between Israel and those Jews and others overseas who feel a part of the nation, wish to protect it, enhance its opportunities, and shape its destiny.

We should expect no less from a people and place anchored in the Bible, a 2,500 year history of Diasporas obligated to pray in their behalf and contribute to their well being, with identities of the current generations shaped by migrations of the last century and one-half.

Avineri recognizes the benefits and the drawbacks of contributions from overseas. Diaspora Jews whose contributions to Israeli political candidates affect the quality of Israeli democracy may also contribute to Israeli social programs. He notes the problems of legislating against overseas Jewish benefactors. His own choice is to protect the governmental element of elections from the money of individuals who are not citizens.

"The foreign source of campaign money threatens the integrity of elections to the Knesset. It is difficult to prevent foreign citizens from financing a newspaper that supports a particular party or personality, but there must be ways to prevent or limit the capacity of overseas money to control the decisions crucial to the sovereignty of the country's citizens."

Avineri's concern is appropriate, but may be destined for the same frustrations that trouble others who would regulate how well-to-do individuals use their means to express themselves politically. Israel's unique problems are overseas Jews and messianic Christians, but its concerns are not all that different from Americans who have sought to limit political money from Hong Kong or Saudi Arabia. Overseas activists interested in Israel want to help those Jews they consider to be the most Chosen, while overseas donors to American candidates and causes want to shape the policies of the country with the greatest leverage on everything else.

By focusing on campaign financing, Avineri stays away from the issue that has led opposition politicians to propose legislation against the overseas financing of Israeli media. Their targets are Sheldon Adelson and Israel Hayom, which has parlayed itself as a free giveaway into Israel's most popular newspaper that may be capable of supporting itself with the advertizing revenue associated with large circulation.

The success of Israel Hayom has coincided with the spread of print media's misery to Israel from what comes to our computers and other gadgets through the air, updated continuously from a variety of local and international sources, and doesn't get wet in the rain while sitting on the doorstep.

Ma'ariv and Ha'aretz are downsizing their staffs under the loss of circulation and advertizing revenue, and trying to salvage something via the internet. Media personalities in radio and television are doing their best to highlight the demonstrations of colleagues who face the loss of jobs and other entitlements from employers who do not pay what is required. Activists are demanding government intervention to save media essential for democracy, but that is not likely when unemployed factory workers are also asking for help, and the most thriving media is financed from overseas and supports the incumbent.

The combination of globalization, the multiplicity of channels for financial transfers, and disputes about free expression will continue to challenge all who want to limit the capacity of the wealthy to influence governments. The ultimate defense of democracy may be disclosure rather than prevention, and the multiplicity of donors. Candidates can criticize one another for the sources of their finance. Local and overseas bigwigs vary in their sentiments and contribute to candidates and causes all over the spectrum. The competition between money along with the competition between candidates, enhanced by the freedom of expression and bolstered by blogs and the internet may have to suffice in assuring the health of democracy. It helps if a nation's culture is anchored in the values of freedom, bargaining, and argument.

Jews have been prominent among those who practice, and even revere political dispute. We have been doing it since the Prophets, who have a firm hold on our culture as well as our religious rituals. Jews also have experience across borders, learning to avoid or evade those who would impose control. Sheldon Adelson, along with Ronald Lauder and George Soros are archtypes of Jews with various interests who attract the nasty label of "cosmopolitan." Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, and Isaiah were more elegant, but no less extreme in how they expressed themselves. Statements from just last week, "I will donate what is necessary to defeat Obama" (Adelson) and "Das wäre ein Desaster" (Lauder on the prospect of Israel's attack on Iran) are part of what the Prophets created.

Proud of being a Jewish and democratic, Israel both enjoys and suffers from Jewish traditions. Shlomo Avineri identifies one of the constraints on Israel's democracy that flows from those traditions. As such, it won't be easy to fix.


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 10:01 PM
October 03, 2012
Amrican heroes

Thanks to an American cousin I am now up to date on the realities of American politics. If I had any doubts about the Saudi loyalties of that Kenyan-born Muslim in the White House, this clip from a Christian source, relying on the evidence produced by an Israeli Jew, settles all my concerns.

Except that Obama is not the first Saudi dupe in the White House. George W. Bush out-performed him by far as a jihadist. It was he who proclaimed that 9-11 was not a blot on Islam, and who not only overlooked its source in Saudi Arabia, but dallied while the Iranians proceeded with their nuclear program and went after the best friend of the moderate West in the Arab world, the late Saddam Hussein. It was Saddam who--admittedly with an iron hand and some nasty words about Israel--sat on the explosive tinder of Iraq and prevented its Shiite majority from cozying up to their cousins in Iran. No doubt that Jews and other lovers of peace and democracy would have liked a more humanitarian figure at the head of Iraqi's government, but Saddam kept that mixture of hatred from exploding.

The results of George W. Bush's efforts to bring peace and democracy to Iraq are hardly successful, by any of the numerous and conflicting estimates of the dead, injured, displaced, and the spillovers from Iran and to Syria. Estimates range above a million Iraqis killed as a result of military actions, suicide bombings and other sectarian violence that continues until now. More than 4,400 American soldiers died there, and who knows how many additional lives--still counting--have been lost to post-Iraq violence and PTSD in its various manifestations. The Bush-initiated adventure in Afghanistan has been less costly, perhaps only because Afghanistan has fewer people than Iraq to kill and be killed. Pakistan remains a place of considerable potential, with drones piloted from Nevada producing as much collateral damage as anything else, while inflaming a population of 180 million with nuclear weapons.

Americans who confuse the Middle East with the Middle West should look at a map and realize that Iraq sits between two other lovelies of the region, i.e., Iran and Syria. The Shiite controlled government ostensibly in control of Iraq--put in place by those Saudi dupes George W. Bush and Barack Obama--has allowed planes from Iran to bring fresh troops and munitions to the Assad forces in Syria, which have something to do with upping the weekly death toll in that country to near or exceeding a thousand. Numbers are flexible in this part of the world where various groups of fighters and their out-of-country admirers compete with statistics as well as guns, missiles, and road side bombs. But it is all a sign of democracy on the rise, spoken in Arabic with Allahu Akbar every few words for those who don't get the message. Americans still applauding Barack Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo, must be proud of their hero, whether or not he has done better than George W. Bush, whose high point was that 2003 appearance on the USS Abraham Lincoln, under a "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Reports are that the administration is preparing to avenge the killing of diplomats in Bengazi, retreating from the claim that it was provoked by that film about Muhammad, done by an Egyptian swindler posing as an Israeli Jew. Should we expect another presidential claim of victory, like that after the killing of Osama, ideally timed for a day or two before the election?

All of this may be marginal in the extreme for most of my American friends and relatives. I doubt that many of them have relatives serving in the military or otherwise feel any direct impact of what the United States does or does not do on the other side of the world. More important in this election season are party loyalties, ideological preferences boosted by campaign rhetoric, the music heard from the lips of Barack, Michelle, Mitt, and Ann, and feelings about the prominent topics of employment, government deficits, health care, abortions, single-sex marriage, gun control, and whatever I've missed.

Most of the time, on most issues, it doesn't matter who is President of the United States. That highly institutionalized democracy does its work via a myriad of advisors, agencies, legislative committees, courts, and many thousands of state and local entities. HOWEVER, there are some issues, like those heroic invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the heroic non-invasion of Iran, where the preferences of the commander-in-chief count for a great deal.

Considering the power of the United States, along with the foreign policy wisdom and military savvy of recent American presidents, I must hope that God will help us all, if He/She/It really cares.


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 05:13 AM