January 31, 2013

The Crusades that we read about in the books had, as their declared aim, liberation of the Holy Land, and especially the holy places in and near Jerusalem. The Jews had a part as victims. Christian hordes massacred them, most notably the communities along the Rhine, on their way to dealing with their primary mission further east.

The targets of the present Crusade are not holy places, but Muslim extremists who are on their own Crusade to liberate Palestine along with Europe and perhaps North America from Jews and Christians they consider infidels.

Current motivations are not religious, and it is not a church leading the onslaught. The concerns are political, strategic, and defensive. This is the age of political correctness and realism. With millions of Muslims already in Europe and North America, and Muslim rulers sitting on much of the oil and gas, it is not an occasion for declaring a war against Islam, even though that is at least part of the reality.

The Jews are more central this time, due to their occupation of what the Muslim Crusaders view as their land. Modern Jews are more often fighters than victims. The IDF is doing its share, most recently attacking arsenals in Syria that might fall into the hands of Hezbollah, as well as several earlier rounds in Gaza and Lebanon, frequent incursions into the West Bank, plus allegations of assassinations, computer viruses, and other dirty stuff from Iran westward.

Toulouse, as well as attacks against individuals, graveyards, and synagogues in Europe and the anti-Israel/anti-Semitic rants on European and American campuses remind Jews of their victimhood. Now, however, Diaspora Jews can feel good about Israel's part in defending Western civilization. That is, if they are not among the Jews participating in anti-Israel demonstrations.

The French were prominent in the earlier Crusades and again this time. Currently they are dealing with aggressive Muslims in Mali. They were also among the leaders attacking Qaddafi's forces in Libya. That might have made things worse by wrecking a nasty but predictable regime. The Americans did the same in Iraq. You can't win them all, especially when fighting a foreign culture at least partly opaque to outsiders.

America was not even discovered in the time of the classic Crusades. Most likely the natives were restless and killing one another in a most primitive fashion, but all that was pre-history in a view of things that is, admittedly, politically uncorrect.

It's also politically uncorrect to use the term "Crusade" for what is happening from Mali through to Pakistan. My Muslim friends have no trouble referring to recent events as a Crusade, and on this we agree.

With the possible exception of the Israelis, no nation is more important in this Crusade than the Americans. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have been almost entirely their turf, and 9-11 their defining moment. Israelis look to America as a supplier of hardware and as the most important source of legitimacy for their actions. There is considerable sharing of intelligence between Israel and the United States. Israeli political and military personnel spend time persuading their American counterparts about the need for one or the other to do this or that. Israel shares in the mistakes (Iraq's weapons of mass destruction) as well as the pressures toward what is currently viewed as the central concern with Iran's nuclear intentions.

Unlike last time, the British and Germans have so far been minor partners. The British have not been noticeable in dealing with aggressive Muslims in the northern area of their former colony Nigeria like the French in their former colony Mali. However, both the British and Germans have contributed to efforts in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and against the Somali pirates, as well as being involved in intelligence sharing. Both, like the French and Americans, have acted against Muslims in their own populations, as well as trying to keep things quiet at home by joining the chorus that this is not a Crusade against Islam.

The other Crusades proceeded in stages for 200 years, and did not end well for the West. The main street in Arab East Jerusalem is named for Salah ad Din (Saladin), noted for a strategic victory over the Christians in what is now northern Israel.

The Jews of the Middle East benefited from the Muslim victory. Life was marginally better for them under the Muslims throughout the Middle Ages than under the Christians of Europe. Neither realm was anything close to Paradise. Simpletons who idealize the life of Jews under the Muslims will have to deal with my Mashhadi friend, whose family spent years outwardly as Muslims but inwardly as Jews, with a history of slaughter and forced conversion.

The Jews of Israel, and by extension those living near Muslims elsewhere are at the core of this Crusade. Like the earlier Crusade(s), these have seen periods of intensity and quiet, or separate chapters in one long story. We may date the onset with the development of Palestinian nationalism and terror during the Mandate period, escalating with Israeli victories in 1948, 1967, and onward through Intifadas #1 and #2, plus three major incursions into Lebanon. Major escalations involving western armies came with the first Gulf War of 1991, or perhaps the earlier Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. 9-11 produced a another escalation, and Arab spring yet another.

Depending on how one counts, we are near 100 years or only a decade into this Crusade. Israelis, Americans, Europeans and Muslims are wondering how long it will last, and how, if ever, it will end.

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 02:05 AM
January 30, 2013
Palestinian prospects

The idea of a Palestinian state won't go away. It seems to be thoroughly enmeshed in the routines of international politics, despite several good reasons why it won't happen. Chief among those are:
•Excessive demands of the Palestinians, too much even for its supporters in important western countries.
•Severe cleavages within the Palestinian community, making it impossible for the "moderates" to be truly moderate in their demands or expectations, and to continue claiming that they represent all of Palestine.
•Inclinations to violence in Palestinian society and elsewhere among Muslims, making it difficult for the moderates, or even the politically attuned extremists (e.g., Hamas) to maintain quiet. Acts of violence provide Israeli security forces all the reason they need to act forcefully, with international understanding or support.
•The craziness of Hezbollah, Iran, al-Queda and others also works against the aspirations of Palestinians, even while they claim to be leading the struggle for Palestine.

Should we need another indication of crazy neighbors, a senior advisor of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi has declared that the Holocaust was a story created by American intelligence agents, meant to justify attacks on Germany and Japan. The Germans did not kill six million Jews. They were brought as immigrants to the United States.

The lack of stability from Mali to Pakistan, now ratcheting up in Egypt, with the future of Syria a huge question mark, with implications for what Syria's future might produce from Assad's allies in Lebanon and Iran should not encourage Israelis or anyone else that the time is ripe for producing yet another Arab state alongside of Israel, especially one where a majority of the population seems inclined to support Hamas. For those who need reminding, Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, the same organization associated with President Morsi and his Holocaust-denying advisor.

With all that, Americans and others have not given up. Or at least they are speaking as if there is hope. In one of Hillary Clinton's comments that came as part of her farewells as Secretary of State, she described an opening of the doors to peace in the results of the Israeli election.

"I think the outcome of the election in which a significant percentage of the Israeli electorate chose to express themselves by saying 'We need a different path than the one we have been pursuing, internally and with respect to the Middle East peace process,"

She went on to say that could mean a resumption of stalled talks with Palestinian authorities, something that the Obama administration will pursue at "every possible opening."

This report, from an agency of the State Department, does not say anything about Ms Clinton's reading of Naftali Benet or his colleagues among new Knesset Members even more outspoken in their opposition to a Palestinian state. Nor does it mention any sign of flexibility from the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, now that John Kerry has sailed through the process of Senatorial approval, we can expect to be hearing more about his intentions to knock at those doors his predecessor sees as opening.

Why the persistence? To a skeptic it appears to be the beating of a dead horse, but the noise continues. It also affects Israeli politics. Not only does the left join the international chorus with enthusiasm, but even the centrists demand serious negotiations with the Palestinians as a price of joining the government.

No surprise that Palestinians are doing their part to keep their issue alive. One of Israel's most respected columnists, Ron ben Yishai, describes Mahmoud Abbas' long range, multi-faceted campaign to obtain real statehood without conceding to Israel the issue of refugees, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, or agreeing that the IDF remain in the Jordan Valley.

There is no sign that Abbas' plans include an extension of his own tenure as President of Palestine. His term expired in January, 2009.

Are they all serious? Is it me who has it all wrong?

Among the explanations that do not require me to prove my sanity are--

Established political commitments.

No one should expect the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry or their European equivalents to admit they were wrong and to drop, or change direction on an issue that has been so prominent and has attracted so many supporters.


Those of the White House, State Department, and their equivalents elsewhere are no more able to change direction than are politicians and activists.There are committed ideologues among key bureaucrats as well as individuals mired in routines and waiting on orders from their political superiors.

Rules of the game require that responsible Israelis continue to proclaim their acceptance of the two-state solution, and their desire for direct negotiations with Palestinians. It has been accepted that Israel indicate its own demands, such as Palestinian recognition of it as a Jewish state, Israel's absorption of major settlement blocs, a rejection of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, as well as expectations about Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, and the de-militarization of Palestine. There is much to argue about, and no clear indication that Palestinians are ready to give as well as take.

We can also expect settlements to expand, but slowly enough to remain below the threshold of anything more than verbal condemnation from the international community and the Israeli left.

Beyond that, my crystal ball provides no details.

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 06:33 AM
January 29, 2013
Syrian uncertainties

For some time the pundits have been predicting the downfall of the Assad regime.

In what may be a significant addition, is one from the Prime Minister of Russia. till now one of Assad's principal sources of support.

Dmitry Medvedev has said that Assad's support is weakening daily. That is not exactly a declaration that the end is near. However, along with news that Assad's mother has left the country, it is something. Against this, is the comment from Jordan's King Abdullah that anyone predicting Assad's early demise does not understand what is happening on the ground.

Mrs. Assad is pregnant. Is that a sign of hope, or the beginning of a story that will end tragically?

Both Israel and Jordan are worrying about what may happen. and they are consulting with one another. Jordan has moved troops and equipment to its border with Syria, and Israel has positioned anti-missile defenses in the north.

Among the looming possibilities is a fall into the rebels' hands of Syria's missiles as well as chemical and biological weapons, or their transfer to the nasty hands of Hezbollah.

Unknown is who is likely to gain control of Syria, and how important in their eyes will be the Zionist enemy.

Hezbollah's enmity is more certain.

So Israel's movement of anti-missiles may signal a concern that one or another rebel group in Syria will turn newly acquired weapons against Israel, or that Israel is getting ready to attack the arsenals of Hezbollah, and preparing for what is likely to come from Hezbollah.

Bibi is rattling his saber, saying that Israel may have to intervene if missiles or weapons of mass destruction start moving toward Hezbollah.

It may only be a matter of time until one or another problem spills over from Syria. No one Is making any firm guesses about who will be in control--if anyone--X months from now. None of the options appear anything close to enlightened, or pleasant, either for the Syrians or their neighbors. Iran has weighed in, threatening to attack anyone who attacks Syria.

Among the possibilities--

•There isn't much that anyone can do amidst the fluid violence with several rival groups of fighters from Syria and elsewhere, including participants from Iran and Hezbollah.
•Jordan and Turkey might enter as Muslim-legitimate guards over the arsenals of long range missiles and weapons of mass destruction, with the assistance of the United States, assuming they have the will to appear to be doing the bidding of the United States and Israel.
•Unfriendly commentators are accusing Bibi of hyping the dangers beyond the actual reality, in order to frighten Israelis and help him recruit partners for his next government. The aura of a national emergency may obtain their participation while getting less than they are currently demanding by way of positions or policy concessions. Remember his shrill warnings about Iran on the eves of elections in the US and Israel.

Syria may go down the road already entered by its neighbor Iraq, i.e., a dismemberment of effective central control into a cluster of areas where ethnic and religious communities dominate.

Both "nations" are clusters of minorities. There are Kurds, Christians, and Alewites along with Sunni Muslims in Syria. There is a majority of Shiite Muslims in Iraq, encouraged by next door Iran, along with Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and Christians. Both countries have enthusiastic ideologues of various kinds along with religious fanatics. To borrow a metaphor from American baseball, you cannot tell the players without a scorecard. Everyone and his gang is fighting everyone else with their gangs.

Both Syria and Iraq had thriving Jewish communities, but no more.

Their loss our gain, including Geffen's other Grandpa.

Syria and Iraq began their modern histories with Britain and France carving out spheres of influence from what had been the Ottoman Empire. Each began with an Arab king, followed by the violence of nationalist revolutions and strong dictators, who managed to keep some degree of domestic peace. Iraq succumbed to the American invasion decided by George W. Bush. Syria is on the ropes due to a spin off from Arab spring, that traces itself in part to Barack Obama's Cairo speech.

In an overly simple history of the century from World War I and looking ahead to what is expected-- European colonialists created with their maps what American presidents destroyed with their illusions of Middle Eastern democracy.

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 01:03 AM
January 27, 2013
More questions than answers

Israel's voters have done their job, and now can wait through a month or more while party politicians and media commentators fill the air with their talk of what is possible, what they want, and what they do not want.

Depending on what is between one's ears or in back of one's eyes, it is either a lot of blah blah to be ignored until we know the makeup of the new government, or the exciting stuff of what it is all about.

Only this week, 6 or so days after the election, the chair of the election commission will inform President Peres about the results. Then the old man will initiate conversations with the heads of 12 parties, asking their advice as to which of them has the best chance of forming a government.

Meanwhile, the present government continues to serve, constrained in large or small measure against major initiatives until replaced.

Bibi assumes it will be him, and has begun conversations with the party heads seen as possible partners.

Among what we are hearing

Yair Lapid is the obvious senior partner, and will be offered the portfolios of Finance or Foreign Affairs, plus one or more other goodies for those of his party colleagues he selects to be ministers or the chair of a Knesset committee. Speculation is that an Orthodox rabbi, but of the liberal variety in that tribe, has a good chance to be Minister of Education.

Lapid and his colleagues are emphasizing two demands. Most prominent is to impose on the ultra-Orthodox a greater burden of work, military or social service, education of their youngsters for something practical, and a reduction of the support they receive from the state treasury.

We've heard that Lapid will not join a government that includes SHAS, and that Bibi wants the Haredim in his government. Some Lapidniks are saying they are prepared to remain in Opposition, but that may just be noise.

Of unknown importance among Lapid and his colleagues is a demand that Israel try once more to open negotiations with the Palestinians.

If that demand is serious, it may cause some problems with Jewish Home. Some of its new MK's have a fit when hearing the word Palestine. The head of Jewish Home, Naftali Benet, wants to join the government, but may have to lean on his colleagues and risk some loss of happiness in his settler constituency.

Benet also has a problem with Sara and maybe with Bibi. Word from someone in Likud is that they do not want Benet in the government. It is impossible to know if this is serious, or a rumor and sign of trouble from within Likud. Some of that party's MKs blame Bibi for the loss of 11 seats from the last election to this one.

There is also trouble within Labor. That party has long been marked by factional nastiness, and now the long knives are being sharpened against Shelli Yehimovich for what her rivals view as a dismal performance in the campaign, poor results, and a mistaken proclamation that Labor would not join Netanyahu in the government. Some Laborites see a chance to woo Bibi into a center left coalition that will neutralize the ultra-Orthodox, fix the economy, improve social services, and do something about the Palestinians.

There is also trouble within each of the ultra-Orthodox parties. Ariyeh Deri's rivals within SHAS note that he did not repeat his previous success in exciting the electorate. Being an ex-con may explain his limited appeal. Party leaders may have overlooked his conviction for accepting bribes, or joined the chorus saying he was railroaded by the secular Ashkenazi elite, but SHAS's Sephardi constituency may be shrewd enough to recognize sleaze. Torah Judaism is even further into the nether world of who knows what is happening, and whether two 90-year old rabbis have settled their dispute over which of their generation will acquire the leadership from the even older rabbi who died some months ago.

SHAS and Torah Judaism are digging in their heels against the drafting of Yeshiva bocher or any worsening of their economic benefits, but they may sense a change in the tolerance of other Jews. Among the unknowns is who will bend more--if at all--on what appears to be the central issue of equality--directed against ultra-Orthodox privileges--in the politics toward the formation of a news government and definition of policy goals.

We're hearing some combination of hypocrisy, naivete, or stupidity from prominent people in America, Europe, and Palestinians that the new government must work to settle things with the Palestinians.

All this in the context of no apparent signs that the West Bank leadership is justifying its label as the moderates by any hint of flexibility, the death toll in Syria climbing near or above 60,000, serious instability and maybe even a counter-revolution in Egypt, whatever is happening in Mali and elsewhere in Muslim Africa, and the unsolved problem of Iran.

There is a report about an explosion deep underground at an Iranian nuclear facility, but Israeli media are reporting it with a question mark. The source is something from the right wing of the United States, in the realm of the media known more for inspiration than hard work.

Anyone thinking than Israel holds a key to accommodation with Islam deserves a warm bed in the nearest asylum.

Netanyahu has cautioned that dealing with the Palestinians will take a good deal of time.

What this means is a matter of rank speculation. On the one hand, he is not one to say an absolute no to the worthies of the world, even if he thinks they are fantasizing about a Palestinian state. On the other hand, he doesn't know what kind of wiggle room--either to the left or the right-- he'll have from whatever government he manages to create.

One can hope for a breakthrough toward a peace agreement. However, as long as there are no signs of wiggling from the Palestinians, I would not expect anything more than condemnation from the American, European, and Israeli left--directed to whoever is governing Israel--for not trying harder.

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 02:49 AM
January 24, 2013
Palestinian dreams

One should never say never, but it appears that the Palestinians have shut the door against the idea of a state.

Too often they have done what Abba Eban placed in the handbook of political aphorisms, missing yet another opportunity to miss an opportunity.

One can produce numerous explanations of their fatality.
•An insistence on a monopoly of justice for their claims
•Not taking account of the economic, military, and political weight of Israel, and the need to adjust their demands to what Israel would be likely to accept
•Becoming overly reliant on economic and political aid from others, thus depriving themselves of the opportunity to mature into a self-reliant entity capable of recognizing opportunities and dangers
•Wearing out their supporters with their excessive demands and insufficient flexibility, not only among sympathetic Israelis, but also among western governments and even their supposed friends among Arab governments
•Widespread disappointment--among Israelis, westerners, and Arabs--from the violence and chaos that has come from Arab spring

The most recent signs of these problems are

Yet another expression of Palestinian demands for others to solve their problems. Prior to the Israeli election, members of the West Bank ruling clique perceived a move to the right, and began pleading for others to pressure the Israelis into doing what the Palestinians consider proper. In the Palestinian parlance, the proper is accepting the Palestinian narrative of history and the Palestinian demands for refugees, a substantial share of Jerusalem, and the rest of the well known list.

In what Arab commentators have called a break through toward a recognition of the Israeli reality, the Arab League issued a request of Israeli Arabs not to boycott the Israeli election. In years past, the international Arab community has considered Israeli Arabs traitors for remaining in Israel and participating in its politics. Jerusalem Arabs are steadfast--and under considerable pressure--not to vote in municipal elections. There was a call issued by Israeli Arab activists to protest Netanyahu by boycotting the national election. However, the Arab League weighed in during the last week to urge participation. Perhaps responding to that, Israeli Arabs participated in greater numbers than the previous election, as did Jews.

What this means for larger Arab support of Palestinian nationalism is not entirely clear. However, it may be taken along with the significant and persistent shortfalls between the money promised and actually delivered from Arab coffers to suggest Arab fatigue with the Palestinian leadership.

We are also hearing Arab voices that Israeli Arab Knesset Members ought to spend less time on their extremist nationalist demands--which get their constituents nowhere--and begin emphasizing economic concerns. Perhaps one day they will learn to work like minority politicians who have become successful elsewhere, and go along in order to get along.

It's also not clear if the larger message about the failure of the Palestinian dreams is apparent to the American White House and those political leaders in Europe who follow its leadership. We have heard from on high that the President is likely to withdraw from active involvement in the mess of the Middle East, along with what may only be a routine output from White House and State Department bureaucracies that Israel and the Palestinians must return to meaningful negotiations.

If one listens carefully, it is also possible to hear from Israeli politicians their commitment to negotiations.

This suggests that Israelis likely to be in high office have not fallen off the world, and will continue playing the games required to remain acceptable in the community of decent countries.

However, much more prominent in what the new MKs are saying is their support of evening the weight of domestic responsibilities. This means pushing the Haredim out of the academies and into the army or national service, and especially to work, and insisting that their youngsters learn something that will help them earn a living, support their families, and pay taxes like the rest of us.

The Israeli routine expression is that the door remains open to negotiations, without preconditions, as long as the Palestinians are willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The latest Palestinian expression is that they are willing to negotiate as long as Israel recognizes the legitimacy of their state. Now Palestinian expressions come with a threat that they will use their recent blessing from the UN General Assembly in order to bring a case against Israel for violating international law by continuing settlement activity, and that the Palestinians will exercise that option if Israel builds in E 1.

I will not conclude by declaring that the door is closed and locked with respect to a Palestinian state. However, the door is closed, even if not yet locked never to be opened by someone who held the key and has thrown it away.

At least for the time being, which can last who knows how long, the Palestinians will continue to have substantial autonomy in the West Bank and--separately--in Gaza, with increases in autonomy and freedoms of movement, import, and export as long as they behave themselves. That means severely limited violence against Israelis.

We, or our children, or their descendants, will see how long this lasts.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Tel: +972-2-532-2725

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


Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:24 AM
January 22, 2013
What we've done, so far

Thirty four parties were officially in the running. Polls indicated that 11 were certain of winning enough votes to enter the Knesset, two others were close to the minimum required, and four of the others attracted my attention as curiosities.

It will be another day before the ballots of Israelis allowed to vote at locations other than their neighborhood polling places will be tallied, i.e., official representatives overseas, soldiers at their bases, prison inmates, and hospital patients. The most precious of the hospital voters is our daughter Tamar, who presented us with granddaughter Geffen the day before the election.

What follows is a loose discussion of what the campaign and 99 percent of the total votes indicate about the Israeli population. By "loose discussion" I mean something other than my personal feelings, of which I claim to have few, and those carefully moderated so they do not get out of control. I am not reading tea leaves, but reporting what I perceive to be roiling us. Perhaps "roiling" is too strong for a political campaign that some described as somnolent. Turnout was 67 percent, two percent higher than in 2009.

This is not a assessment informed by a thorough analysis of polling that goes beyond "what party?" and into the various reasons for the vote. That will come from colleagues who specialize in such things, but not for some time until those kind of polls are tabulated and analyzed.

I make no claim that the themes described below can be ranked from the more to the less prominent or important in the voters' decisions. What I am describing is more like a salad, or a soup, of different themes apparent somewhere in the mix, rather than what was more or less important in the outcome.

The real "outcomes" won't be known for a month or more of negotiations toward the formation of a government, and it will be several years until we know what the government actually accomplishes. And whatever that is will not be entirely the product of the government, but a combination of what its members would like, and what is imposed upon them by events from outside or inside the country that are beyond their control.

One of the themes was a moderate "No" to the Palestinians. Only one prominent candidate, Tsipi Livni, campaigned in favor of re-starting a peace process. Livni's party trailed the other centrist-left parties, and will place only 6 of its candidates in the Knesset. The candidates of two larger parties, Likud our Home with 31 seats and Jewish Home with 11, promised more settlement activity, a rejection of removing settlements already established, with some of them rejecting any recognition of a Palestinian state.

Explanations for this theme include
•fatigue with the Palestinians and their international supporters
•a rejection as naive the condemnation of settlement from the White House and European capitals, and their calls for renewed negotiations
•a dim view of Hamas and its allies responsible for thousands of rocket attacks and having to be disciplined once again by the IDF
•a view that Israel, along with Palestinian security personnel and a weak West Bank government, can probably keep a lid on restiveness there, reinforced by West Bankers not wanting to give up their economic progress by going down the road of Gaza
•a flaccid West Bank leadership that seems intent on holding on but not much more
•a view of Arab spring, which sees it mired in violence and chaos, anything but democratic, and by no means encouraging the near term establishment of yet another Arab state alongside Israel

Together with this theme of rejecting a stepped-up peace process in order to produce a Palestinian State is a rejection of Israeli extremism. This may seem odd alongside the support given to Jewish Home and the movement to the right apparent in the line up of Likud candidates. However, it appears in the decline during the campaign of the support given to Likud our Home (from 42 seats at the beginning of the campaign to 31 at the end), and the support given four centrist to left of center parties with a total of 40-42 seats. Lapid's There is a Future won 19 seats, Labor 15, Livni's Movement 6, and Kadima perhaps 2 but still close to the minimum. Each of them campaigned in large or small part against the extremism apparent in Likud our Home and Jewish Home. Moreover, the most right wing of the existing parties will disappear from the Knesset. Its current formulation, under the heading of Power to Israel, did not reach the minimum required. And left of center Meretz increased its poll from 4 to 6 seats.

What may come of this combination of extremism and anti-extremism is more of the same. That is, stability or a modest expansion of settlements, along with low-to-moderate international condemnations, continued political constipation of the Palestinian leadership, bloodshed in Syria and Libya, now spread to Mali and elsewhere in Africa, and one or another kind of fluid instability in Egypt, Tunis, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia etc etc.

Social reform is somewhere on the table, but not in a way that is easy to define. In the background are the street demonstrations of 2011 with a couple of hundred thousand participants that led to the government's appointment of a special committee to consider social and economic reforms. However, those demonstrations occurred two summers ago. Last summer saw no such ferment in the streets. During the campaign, only the Labor Party was prominent in emphasizing the need for greater social benefits close to anything like the socialism of years past.

Yair Lapid was the big winner in this election, with his new party becoming the second largest in the Knesset. He campaigned with the vague demand of helping the middle class, and it is reasonable to interpret his voters as demanding a change in social policies. However, he shied away from even the mild socialism of Labor, and put more emphasis in demanding that the ultra-Orthodox do their share of work, paying taxes, military or other national service.

Not only Lapid, but also Naftali Benet (Jewish Home) and most of their party colleagues come to the Knesset with a minimum of governmental experience. Commentators are asking what they will demand, with whom will they coalesce, what kinds of problems might they cause for likely Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, and what they will accomplish.

Several parties campaigned at least partly against the Haredim, reflecting the lack of resolution in response to Supreme Court decisions that blanket exemptions from the military are unacceptable. The Orthodox candidates in Jewish Home and even the Prime Minister--despite his previous coalitions with ultra-Orthodox parties--expressed more or less clearly that the ultra-Orthodox take on a greater share of contributing to the country's needs, and should expect less of a free ride with government support for their large families and perpetual study.

The Haredi and Arab parties are where they were, with about the same number of votes by their loyal communities, in the one case doing what their rabbis instruct, and in the other case voting largely by extended families.

One of the parties that seemed on the border line of entering the Knesset, but which received only half the the minimum number of votes, also echoed anti-Haredi sentiments. Its leading candidate, Rabbi Haim Amsalem, left the SHAS delegation of the former Knesset, included a woman and secular Jews in its list of candidates, and campaigned on the theme of integrating the ultra-Orthodox into the society with an education not only in sacred texts but also with lessons that will equip them for meaningful employment.

Outside of the headlines during the campaign, and having no impact on the results were four parties that caught my eye, and tell us a little bit about the nature of Israel. One of them is a morphed version of the party we've seen before advocating access to marijuana. It still calls itself the Green Leaf party, but now is making a more prominent theme of libertarianism. Marijuana is only one of the freedoms from government intervention in Israeli lives that it advocates. This is the closest Israel comes to anything like the Republican Party cum Tea Party of the United States. As far as I can tell, however, Israel's Green Leaf has no element of the American Republicans' love of family values or the Christian Right's concerns about abortions or gays. And I did not notice the Christian Right or the Republican Party of the United States advocating the legalization of marijuana.

Another party, with a bit of overlap with the libertarians of Green Leaf, is the Pirates party. This claims to be part of an international movement toward the future, with small European parties, calling for an end to traditional politics and government, and running things with perpetual referenda posted on the Internet. I've also perceived an element in behalf of the free downloading from the Internet of copyrighted material, but it is not easy to know exactly what this party is about. And insofar as it has not been close to the minimum required for entering the Knesset, it does not encourage a great deal of study.

An Arab-Jewish Workers' Party campaigned against the nationalist obsessions of traditional Arab parties that produce no tangible gains for their constituents. It asked voters to recognize the common needs of lower income Jews and Arabs.

Yet another curiosity was "Everlasting Covenant for the Salvation of Israel under the Leadership of Ofer Lipshitz." His promotional clips featured a middle age man expressing a biblical prophet's sentiment about being summoned by the Almighty to save Israel. Lipshitz's web site provides biblical sources in Hebrew and English, but otherwise has not made much of an impact on Google or the Israeli electorate, or even warranted a public condemnation by the religious establishment. One hears that Lipshitz is a plumber by profession, putting him in the professional category of a prophet-like Jewish carpenter who gained some prominece here years ago.

Guesses are that negotiations toward the creation of a government will be at least as exciting as the election. And with two newcomers (Yair Lapid and Naftali Benet) at the head of parties with 30 Knesset seats, along with Likud our Home with only 31, few commentators are certain about the nature of the next government, or its capacity to survive the tensions.


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 11:33 PM
January 18, 2013
Hypocrisy in the White House and elsewhere

One definition of a hypocrite is an individual who is guilty of faults more serious than those done by others that the hypocrite condemns as intolerable.

Evolving events in northwestern Africa invite another look at Barack Obama's comment that Israelis--and especially Benyamin Netanyahu--do not know what is good for their country.

Even before turning to Africa, it should be asked how the head of a country with such dismal social indicators as the United States (health, life expectancy, criminal violence) could say that the head of a country with much better indicators does not know what is good for his country.

One should credit whatever efforts the American President makes to control the slaughter of civilians by civilians in his country. However, debates about limiting assault rifles, the capacity of magazines, and limiting gun sales to the mentally ill and individuals with criminal records--each of which invites intense political opposition--appear absurd in comparison with what Israel and other democracies do by way of limiting access to weapons and keeping their murder rates at a fraction of America's.

The President's criticism of Israel's relations with Palestinians appears equally absurd in comparison with Israel's decent record of dealing with aggressive Islam against the syndrome of denial by the US and its clumsy failures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, apparent confusion and ambivalence in high places about what is happening in Mali and Algeria, and the President's nomination of a Defense Secretary with a spotty record in assessing Iran.

The threats to western societies and values from Islam are multifaceted and complex. The variety of extremist movements in different countries, including Europe and the United States, threaten--first of all--the existential western democratic values concerned with freedom of religion, freedom of expression, international trade, cultural exchange, and travel. How to deal with movements that threaten those values without surrendering the same values by efforts to defend them? There is no easy answers, but it is certain that indifference or denial are not among them. If the world learned anything from the battle against fascism, it is necessary to recognize the reality of threats, and to compromise democratic values in order to defend the most essential of those values.

All this is delicate, and demands a great deal of information about Muslims, a willingness to be intrusive in the collection of information, and a willingness to act against groups and individuals when required.

In all probability, this cannot be done well. The point is not to do it so badly as to permit the spread of radicalism through passive Muslim populations, and geographically across more countries.

Israel's record is not perfect, but ought to be valued rather than condemned. The American President overstepped the borders of wisdom and decency not only with his most recent comments about Netanyahu and Israelis not knowing what is good for their country, but with his earlier insistence that Israel not build in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

Israel has made numerous efforts to reach agreement with Arabs who have directed their hatred and violence against its civilians. It has a decent record with respect to the 20 percent of its population that is Muslim, and has been forceful but restrained in responding to aggression.

It is common to attack Israel's treatment of its Arab minority, without pausing to compare its situation to that of minorities elsewhere.

We cannot probe all the complexities required by a sophisticated comparison of the relevant traits and countries. However, two important indicators from the national statistics of Israel and the United States suggest that Israel's record with respect its Arab minority does not deserve condemnation.

Jewish-Arab family incomes in Israel are about the same as White-Black incomes in the United States, with a slight advantage (at least for the latest year for which data is available) for the United States, i.e., Black income is 65 percent of White income in the United States, while Arab income is 64 percent of Jewish income in Israel. In a summary measure of health, Israel's minority does substantially better than the American minority. Israeli Arab life expectancy closer to that of Jews. Israeli Arab longevity is 96 percent that of Jews while that of American Blacks is 94.7 percent that of Whites. Moreover, Israel's Arab minority has a longer life expectancy (80.2 years) than the American White majority (78.4 years).

A great deal of the international condemnation of Israel concerns settlements, the government's activities in the West Bank and Gaza, and international law.

There is no excuse for "Jewish terror," or radical religious-nationalists who destroy Arab property and attack individual Arabs at random. However, this is a small fraction of the illegalities of which Israel is accused, and Israeli security and judicial institutions act against those Jews. More to the point is Jewish settlement in neighborhoods of Jerusalem beyond the pre-1967 armistice lines, and other locales further into the West Bank.

Against the common charges, by the White House and others, are Israeli claims that the expansion of Jerusalem and the location of several outlying settlements were selected with an eye toward defending core areas against repeated Arab violence. Moreover, Israel initially delayed constructions beyond Jerusalem against the possibility of negotiations, but was frustrated by the Khartoum Declarations. Then in 2000 and 2009 Israeli leaders made offers to Palestinian leaders that involved a resolution of settlement issues, but were turned down. Both the offer made in 2000 and the unilateral withdrawal of settlements from Gaza in 2005 were met with increased violence.

Israeli justifications are not acceptable in governmental circles outside of Israel, but they deserve a weighing along with other indicators of how Israel has dealt with security over the whole span of its existence. Among the factors to be considered are the incidence of Israeli civilian casualties from Arab terror, the number of Arabs killed by Israeli security forces, the quality of Arab living standards in Israel, and the autonomy that Israel allows to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Compared to the incidence of western civilians killed by Muslims, alongside the native casualties and the quality of success associated with western efforts in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, Israel's record does not seem to justify the extreme and repeated condemnation that it receives.

In a word, Israel has succeeded more than others, with fewer casualties to its adversaries, despite a higher incidence of casualties among its own civilian population when compared to other western countries dealing with Muslim violence.

There are many reasons for Israeli policy makers to support, promote, or accept the expansion of settlements. Alongside those who feel they have a God given right to all the "Land of Israel" are secular Israelis who want to expand Jewish control as rapidly as possible. There is also a nuanced motivation, to advance slowly as a way to pressure Palestinians to accept Israel, and stop the expansion, and perhaps withdraw some of the settlements, at a point where Palestinians can create a state on what remains.

International law appears to many Israelis as amorphous and flexible enactments that adversaries use against them for actions less noxious, and more justifiable than what many others do without being charged, including the western and the Muslim populations that are the prominent sources of anti-Israel condemnations.

Mali, and the the Algerian hostage taking beg comment in this connection. Seizing hostages is widespread throughout much of Africa, as well as along the coast of Somalia. Many if not most of the perpetrators are Muslim, some of whom claim to be acting in behalf of Islam. Also involved is simple criminality for the sake of financial gain. Those involved in the Algerian incident identify with Islam, and were well enough equipped and prepared to overcome security at a site protected by armed personnel. Their hostages and those killed include European, American, and other nationals, and the incident suggests the prospect of an escalation in attacks directed against other foreign owned or managed resource sites throughout the Middle East and Africa. In Algeria we have the makings of a miniature 9-11. Along with the escalation of French involvement in Mali, it has the capacity to produce further escalations by European and/or American forces.

The questions to be asked of those who condemn Israel are:
•Will this new phase continue to come with the disclaimer about not fighting Islam? and
•Will it be less bloody and more effective than Israel's efforts to deal with its problem of Muslim violence?


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 12:07 AM
January 16, 2013
Barack and Bibi

President Barack Obama has been quoted as saying that "Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are."

This report about the President's sentiments did not come directly from the President, but has been filtered through a journalist reporting what the President said to him, or what he heard from other people who spoke with the President. The journalist paraphrased the President's remarks, and added his own explanations.

"With each new settlement announcement . . . Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation. . . .On matters related to the Palestinians, the president seems to view the prime minister as a political coward, an essentially unchallenged leader who nevertheless is unwilling to lead or spend political capital to advance the cause of compromise."

"(Obama) suggested that he has become inured to what he sees as self-defeating policies of his Israeli counterpart."

"And if Israel, a small state in an inhospitable region, becomes more of a pariah -- one that alienates even the affections of the U.S., its last steadfast friend -- it won't survive. Iran poses a short-term threat to Israel's survival; Israel's own behavior poses a long-term one."

"Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Obama's nominee to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, is said to be eager to re-energize the Middle East peace process, but Obama -- who already has a Nobel Peace Prize -- is thought to be considerably more wary. He views the government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as weak, but he has become convinced that Netanyahu is so captive to the settler lobby, and so uninterested in making anything more than the slightest conciliatory gesture toward Palestinian moderates, that an investment of presidential interest in the peace process wouldn't be a wise use of his time."

"Obama isn't making unreasonable demands. Israeli concerns about the turmoil in Syria and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood are legitimate in the American view, and Obama knows that broad territorial compromise by Israel in such an unstable environment is unlikely."

"But what Obama wants is recognition by Netanyahu that Israel's settlement policies are foreclosing on the possibility of a two-state solution, and he wants Netanyahu to acknowledge that a two-state solution represents the best chance of preserving the country as a Jewish-majority democracy. Obama wants, in other words, for Netanyahu to act in Israel's best interests."

The White House is not denying the report, and the sentiments could be expected from the rocky relationship between Bibi and Barack. Speculation is that the timing of the article, a week before Israel's election, is the revenge of the President (and/or the jounalist) for Bibi's barely disguised endorsement of Mitt Romney.

If Obama views Mahmoud Abbas as weak, a lot of Israelis view him as impotent, and shying away from anything close to what any Israeli government could offer by way of territorial compromise. Moreover, the radicalism that appears in the opposition to the Syrian regime, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its close relatives in Hamas also get in the way of any Israeli initiative at this time. If Obama himself is wary of making yet another effort at bringing the Palestinians and the Israelis together, why should Israelis make the issue prominent in their politics?

Whatever can be said about the timing of these presidential thoughts and comments, they are at odds with what the Israeli electorate is about to do. Two of the three parties likely to be among the biggest in the Knesset are dominated by candidates who would push Israel even further away from the President's preference. Netanyahu's record suggests he is the most cautious MK of Likud our Home on the issue of settlements. Several members of that party's delegation, and even more so those of Jewish Home are outspoken in behalf of further settlement activity.

Netanyahu says that he supports settlement, but his record is more modest than his comments. He tried a freeze even in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, he has said that construction in E 1 is not imminent, and he continues to endorse the idea of a Palestinian state. To be sure, he buffers that endorsement with the need of the Palestinians to be more forthcoming than they have ever been. However, his failure to actually abandon the two-state mantra distinguishes him from other MKs of Likud our Home and Jewish Home.

Almost as clear as the loud voices from the right wing of Likud our Home and from Jewish Home is the silence of other parties and candidates on the issue of negotiating with the Palestinians. It is prominent only in the campaign of Tsipi Livni, and her party has sunk in the polls to 7-9 seats, making it the weakest of the centrist parties.

At least part of the explanation of what is happening in Israeli politics appears in Barack Obama's own remarks. The President's recognizes the problems from the Palestinians and the chaos elsewhere in the Middle East. Yet Obama is explicit is assigning much of the responsibility for the impasse to Israel, i.e., to Bibi's timidity and the power of the settlement lobby. Similar or even stronger criticism of Israel comes from European capitals.

The explicit endorsement of the White House will spur even more of those sentiments from Western politicians and media. More is expected of Israel than of the Palestinians or any other Arabs.

A parallel question is, what do Israeli voters think about Barack Obama?

The President's reputation among Israelis has had modest ups and severe downs. At least some of the strength currently shown by rightist and pro-settlement candidates, and disinterest in the peace process, reflects voters' rejection of criticism from the United States and Europe.

What will come of all this, i.e., the explicit criticism of the Prime Minister by the US President, Netanyahu's likely re-election, the increased weight of right wing politicians in the Knesset, along with whatever happens in Syria and elsewhere in the neighborhood, including Mahmoud Abbas, his colleagues and rivals, plus events on the streets of the West Bank?

The greatest source of moderation may come from the timidity of Bibi that Barack holds against him. The Israeli Prime Minister has acted more carefully than he has spoken. Despite his frequent threats about Iran and outspoken support of settlements, there has been no Israeli attack on Iran and no construction in E 1. Most of the construction in "settlements" has been in the major blocs and Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, widely thought to remain in Israeli hands.

There are many variables at work and too many possibilities for anything close to certainty about what comes next. Barack Obama may spend more time on economics and gun control than the Middle East. Europeans are not out of the economic woods, and the French have started an involvement in Mali. We may be left alone while Syria continues to burn and eventually remakes itself into who knows what. Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan and Palestine are each going through their own uncertainties. Our little corner of the Middle East may actually be the quietest patch between Washington and Pakistan, and down into central Africa.

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 01:02 AM
January 14, 2013
Another chapter in the Crusade that doesn't exist

There is news about another chapter in the Crusade of Western democracies against what they refuse to label as a problem of Islam. The French have taken on the task of attacking--from the air and with ground troops--a northern Mali "army" of assorted Islamic groups that have threatened to overtake the entire country. American efforts to deal with the same problem indirectly, by training Mali's army, were a dismal failure. The official army collapsed, a number of trained soldiers left their units, along with their weapons, and joined the rebels.

The French may be better at this kind of thing than Americans, given their long history of ruling huge parts of Africa, including what is now Mali, their extensive cultural and economic contacts, the spread of French (lingua franca), the traditions of the Foreign Legion, and what may be less obsessive concerns for political correctness or improving native governments and spreading democracy.

Not that the French record is perfect. They lost Algeria and fled Vietnam before the Americans entered in force, after a military disaster at what was thought to be an impregnable position at Dien Bien Phu.

The heart of the matter is the problem of dealing militarily with irregular forces, i.e., fighters that are not the disciplined armies of an established government, which stop fighting when their government cries "uncle." Irregulars pursue their religious or political purposes with munitions and money received either openly or on the sly from friendly governments, and have shown an impressive capacity to regroup even after suffering serious losses. They are beholden to no government that can control them, and order them to stop fighting.

The problem has been around for a long time. Upon leaving Afghanistan for Pakistan, one can see carved on a cliff the regimental shields of British troops whose remnants left the country in the mid-19th century. That is, assuming the Taliban have not destroyed those carvings along with other remnants of infidels. George Washington's strategy against the better trained and equipped British was to operate much of the time as irregulars. The French, Poles, and other nationalist Resistance fighters cost the Germans heavily in World War II, and continued their activities despite the drastic steps the Germans took against villages supporting them.

The problem affects not only military commanders who struggle to identify who is the enemy among a population that is alternately passive and hostile vis a vis outsiders. Lawyers and policy makers stutter and stumble around unclear rules of war. What is permitted and forbidden comes from the history of official armies fighting one another, with clear demarcations--at least theoretically--between soldiers and civilians.

The United States has a mixed record in its colonial wars against insurgents. Its best performance may have been against the American Indians, but that carries with it the shame of doing things no longer acceptable. Fighting in the Philippines proceeded in waves from the end of United States' formal war against Spain until the onset of its formal war against Japan. Americans don't often discuss that war. They are still arguing about Vietnam, although Chuck Hegel's ascendance to the Defense Department--if he is confirmed--may signal the ultimate victory of those opposing that war. The first onslaught against the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9-11 may go down as a victory, providing it is not lost in the more prominent American failures in overlooking the record of the British and the Russians, and staying around in order to reform that country. Aspirations to depose Saddam Hussein succeeded, but the search for weapons of mass destruction was a bust, along with the goal of turning Iraq into a democracy.

Whether all of these operations were worth their costs remains open, especially when measured by the deaths of indigenous populations due to foreign soldiers or to the fighting they provoked between various groups of natives. There are questions both about the numbers of casualties, as well as more painful questions about morality. Estimates range above a million deaths in the Philippines between 1898 and the Japanese conquest, likewise for Iraq after 2003, at least two million dead Vietnamese, and whatever can be said about what Americans and other "advanced" populations did to the natives of North and South America.

My own experience comes from being held up by bandits in the Khyber Pass, stoned while serving in the IDF lecture corps in Gaza, being within 50 meters of a fire fight in Lebanon, seminars with American and Israeli military personnel, and lots of reading and thinking.

It appears to me that efforts to reform foreign regimes, or to train the soldiers of another culture infused with insurgence is costly and destined for frustration. The very presence of foreign bases with their own food, music, and other entertainments in the midst of a miserable and restive population may produce as many recruits for the other side as it produces benefits for the foreign troops, especially if the enemy is Islamic extremism hateful of infidels.

Simpler, and more effective, but only partially, are raids that are very costly for the insurgents, without the outsiders staying around to reform a government or remake a society. Examples are the first efforts of the Bush administration against Afghan sources of 9-11, Israel's lessons from Lebanon I (1982-2000) applied to Lebanon II (2006), Gaza 2009 and 2012. Significant destruction with no ambitions to control may send an effective message at relatively little cost in one's own bloodshed.

What to do about Islam remains unanswered. Its numbers, and the varieties of aggressive Muslims get in the way of any known solution. Problems from the Taliban of Afghanistan are not the same as those from immigrant communities and the converts produced in the United States and Western Europe, Somali pirates, or the expansive Muslims of northern regions of Mali and Nigeria. Language, history, religious and other motivating factors--like commerce in illegal drugs and simple gangsterism--confuse analysis. It is not one war, but many fronts and skirmishes where the soldiers of governments or profit-making companies learn by doing, failing, dropping out, or trying some more.

It is wise to think of a long war of attrition with no clear end point.

Israel has been dealing with violent Muslims since the 1920s. Twenty percent of the Israeli population is Muslim, most seem to live peacefully, or suffer more than the Jews from the drugs, violence, and religious fanaticism that occurs in their communities. Yet most Israeli Arabs vote for Arab parties that emphasize nationalistic goals.

Pathetic is the blather of activists who see Israel is the prime problem of human rights, while Israel deals with fighters who target its civilians, and Americans and Europeans fighting far from their homelands.ignore the constraints demanded of Jerusalem.

Does it help or hurt to tell ourselves that the enemy is not Islam, but only clusters of Islamic extremists? It is not clear if "al Quaida" is a real organization that operates from Indonesia to West Africa, with branches in Europe and the US, or whether it is a label hiding more than it reveals, used by analysts and media personalities who don't know what they are talking about.

No one wants to make enemies of a billion Muslims, most of whom may be as worried about the extremists as any Christian, Jew, or member of other communities. Yet Muslims who are not active in the fight may support or tolerate extremists on account of religious sympathies, passivity, family loyalties, or fear. The words from high that the enemy is not Islam may delude innocents who lack a protective covering of cynicism, and may actually get in the way of useful measures, like revising immigration regulations to keep problematic populations away from western homelands. One needn't revert to the racist barbarity of the not so distant past to find some value in a realistic assessment of threats and enemies. It is hard enough combating armed groups that are not the armies of established states, without fooling oneself as to what is the nature of the adversary threatening what has been constructed under the heading of Western Civilization.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:27 AM
January 12, 2013
More of the same?

The election is a bit more than a week away. Some pundits are sure it will produce more of the same, while others are either pleased or fearful about changes they anticipate.

Most certain is that Netanyahu will continue as Prime Minister, and most likely with his core of support being Likud with the addition of Lieberman's party (for the time being without Lieberman busy with a criminal charge), along with Jewish Home and the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Creating no little concern are changes within Likud's Knesset delegation and that of Jewish Home. Both are tilted sharply to the right of what had been old and familiar faces in the previous Knesset. Prominent moderates Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, and Michael Eitan lost high rankings in Likud's primary, while Moshe Feiglin won a safe place on the ticket, after several years of going against Netahyahu's efforts to keep him squawking from the distance. What Feiglin has been demanding--a greater emphasis on Israel's Jewishness, annexing large portions of the West Bank, ending any possibility of a Palestinian state, and--most recently--proposing $500,000 for every Palestinian family willing to move elsewhere--would seem to put him with the more extreme new MK's likely to represent Jewish Home, or even further to the right and beyond the boundaries of a Netanyahu coalition.

Jewish Home is the surprise of this election. Like other upstarts (e.g., the Pensioners' Party in 2006) it is attracting votes from Israelis unhappy with the conventional faces. And like Pensioners and other parties that have leaped from nothing to something, the current lineup of Jewish Home may bring some problems. One of its people likely to enter the Knesset has had to explain away comments that Israel be governed by Jewish religious law. Depending on which rabbis would be chosen for the Sanhedrin, that could push Israel far in the direction of Saudi Arabia. Naftali Benet, the virtually unknown head of Jewish Home, had to squirm out of comments saying that he would not obey military orders to remove Jewish settlers from any home. Even if some of the wilder ideas associated with Jewish Home remain hypothetical, its Knesset delegation is likely to join several members of Likud in pushing for the explicit annexation of areas in the West Bank. This is something Israel has not done since expanding the boundaries of Jerusalem in 1967. Even the proposal would assure nasty remarks from the international media and Israel's allies.

Yair Lapid is another newcomer. His party, There is a Future, has been polling in the range of 9-11 Knesset seats, and is the most likely of the centrist parties to join a Netanyahu government. Lapid has said that he would not be a fig leaf for a right wing government, saying but not in absolute terms with no wiggle room that he would not accept an invitation to join. His campaign for votes has been an amorphous spiel in behalf of Israel's middle class, demanding a greater sharing of benefits and reducing the privileges of the Haredim. He would be useful for Netanyahu's efforts to be the ruler of all Israel--or at least all of its Jews--without bothering Netanyahu with the more radical, socialist sounding demands of Shelli Yehimovich and colleagues even further to the left in Labor.

Those looking for a breakthrough to peace seem destined for frustration. Tsipi Livni is the one prominent candidate pitching credentials as a peace maker, and her party has been polling at the bottom of the center-left cluster.

The Palestinians are as restive as usual alongside the failure of Israeli politicians to compete with proposals about the road to peace. There has been an increase in the incidence of violence in the West Bank, along with marches by armed and masked men in the streets of West Bank cities who shoot into the air in protest against the unaggressive regime of Mahmoud Abbas. There have also been Israeli incursions to nab individuals who seem intent on beginning another intifada.

A report of Abbas' speech marking the anniversary of his party's founding suggests that he is trying to appear steadfast with nonnegotiable demands. He avoided mention of compromise with Israel, and said that it was necessary for Palestinians to continue the struggle in behalf of "the dream of return" of the Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants. He had good words to say about the the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who fled the British and spent World War II in alliance with the Nazis, as well as for a number of Palestinians who Israel holds responsible for killing civilians.

There are Jewish voices blaming Israel for failing to find the key to accommodation with the Palestinians. One man writing from New York and not having apparent influence on the Israeli electorate says

"it is about time for the 'Arab Spring' to reach the Israeli shores. It is time for the Israelis to rid themselves of the bondage of occupation and be free again. It is time to stop zealots and messianic leadership from gradually bringing Israel to the brink of national disaster. Israelis can no longer remain complacent in the face of their country's growing isolation and the mounting danger of forsaking the prospect of a two-state solution, which remains the only viable option to save Israel as a democratic Jewish state. It is time for the Israelis to rise up before it is too late and demand an end to the conflict with the Palestinians."

Some are fearful of the Obama-Hegel-Kerry triumvirate. Jewish organizations are mobilized at full voice against Hegel's confirmation, reminding us by their hyperbole that Israel may have as many problems with the Jewish lobby as the United States.

Whatever happens in terms of personnel, the American administration will be busy for some time with domestic economic challenges, and Syria should continue to discourage any naive feelings associated with Arab spring.

Hopefully Palestinians enjoying the relative quiet and prosperity of the West Bank will be able to calm those who are always anxious to pursue their historic rights by all means. Hopefully, too, Netanyahu will calm his party colleagues and others in his government who want to affirm their expansive views of Jewish rights.

More of the same needn't be worse, even if it does not promise to be a whole lot better.


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 11:28 AM
January 10, 2013
A normal country, every once in a while

Israel is more than intense argument about political candidates, religion, security, and all the other important issues subject to dispute by Jews who are Talmudic in their style even if they are not religious.

Occasionally, it is like other countries, and fascinated with the weather.

Over the most recent five days, the unofficial rain gauge on our balcony measured 33 cm (13 inches) of rain. This morning (Thursday) it was clogged with about 15 cm (6 inches) snow. The view from the same balcony where occasionally we can see the buildings of Amman, about 60 km (35 miles) away on the next mountain ridge, was limited to a snow covered tree about 3 meters distant.

I found my boots at the back of a closet, put them on for perhaps the third time in 15 years, and went outside to find lots of neighbors also with cameras to record their images of nature's spectacle. This is my second such adventure in two years, but I'll avoid comment about global warming.

The city, and much of the country is closed. No political commentary on early morning radio. Only lists of places where there is no school, roads closed, and no public transportation. In order to keep private cars off the roads, Jerusalem declared free rides on buses and light rail. Early this morning, however, the buses were still in their parking lots. The light rail worked until about 7 AM, then it fell victim to a problem that was hoped to be fixed before long. Roads to the capital were closed. The crowds wanting to bring their kids to see the snow in the mountains were urged to wait for the train, assuming that it continues to operate, and that passengers can move from the terminal in a non-photogenic part of Jerusalem other than by foot.

Earlier in the week the stories were about overflowed stream beds that are dry most of the year, residents having to be rescued by rubber boats, or helicopters.

This is certain to be a short vacation from what usually bothers us. Already at 7:45 Israel radio left the weather and returned to the election. We're now in the season of hour-long broadcasts on radio and television with clips provided by each of the 34 political parties fielding candidates for the Knesset. Some are interesting, and even funny. My favorite is that of Power to Israel, the most right wing of the parties, close to the boundaries of racism with several of its leading candidates loyal to the memory of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was banned from politics due to anti-Arab outbursts. The clip done by this party begins with its two major candidates making their appeal in Arabic.

Other party clips show their leaders in full drama. We see Bibi time and again giving rousing speeches with standing applause before the US Congress. A competing clip shows Yair Lapid mimicking Bibi's use of a cartoon portraying what must be done about Iran's nuclear program. We see the leaders of Kadima and Meretz in pictures from their childhood, with praise of their parents and marvel of what they have become. Labor's Shelly Yehimovich includes a testimony by her mother, as well as Shelly talking about her own cooking and children.

The Ha'aretz cartoon shows the ancient rabbi of SHAS, and the two leading candidates watching Shelly in the kitchen and praising her as an ideal woman.

Tsipi Livni makes a point that this time she is in politics to stay, suggesting that her advisers are worried that too many voters accept the charges that she will go home again if she doesn't get to be Prime Minister or at least Foreign Minister. SHAS and Torah Judaism emphasize their concern for the poor and aged of Israel. One of SHAS's clips has brought forth charges of racism due to portraying a caricatured Russian of doubtful Jewish background trying to marry a man with obvious Jewish features. One of the minor parties entertains us by advocating political freedom along with access to marijuana, another emphasizes its fervent opposition to pornography as a national menace, and a party calling itself Pirates seems to be urging the free downloading of songs and films from the Internet despite international copyright protections. An Arab-Jewish party is trying to win votes by forswearing nationalism and emphasizing benefits for the poor of both communities. Two new Jewish religious parties are making messianic appeals that only they hold the keys to whatever is eternal. The maturation of recent immigrants is apparent in the lack of clips in Russian. I've noticed two party clips that are in Arabic only, without Hebrew subtitles.

Each of the established parties gets time in proportion to its seats in the Knesset, with new parties given much smaller allocations. This leads the bigger parties to repeat the same clips time and again, which sends even this political maven to something else.

Leaders of the three centrist parties are trying to differentiate themselves from another with some nastiness about personalities. Likud our Home would like to stifle the drift of its voters to Jewish Home. Each party's stars are accusing their rivals of naivete, unreliability, inexperience, and in some cases likely to bring the country to disaster via military adventures or a failure to stay within the good graces of the United States and Western Europe. The chair of the Election Commission, a Justice of the Supreme Court, has ruled some of the clips out of bounds.

The forecast for Thursday afternoon through next week is more regular weather and lots of politics.


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

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:44 AM
January 08, 2013
Chuck Hagel

We're hearing different things about Chuck Hagel, and the reasons for his appointment as Obama's Secretary of Defense..
•Clips of his comments about the power of the Jewish lobby, the Palestinians being chained down, and the damage to the standing of the US due to excessive support of Israel
•Comments expressing caution--perhaps in the extreme--with respect to using military power to deal with threats
•Hagel has been among those questioning, and voting against sanctions directed at Iran's nuclear ambitions, and insisting that negotiation is the appropriate option
•That his appointment was Barack Obama's revenge directed against Netanyahu's support of Mitt Romney
•Expectations that Obama's vengence will bring forth another dose of Netanyahu's, directed at convincing enough Senators to vote against the appointment
•That Israel is a minor issue in the appointment and intentions of Hagel and Obama. The real purpose, by this view, is to cut drastically into the various military contractors, especially those that have supplied personnel to do much of the work traditionally assigned to soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. And while opposition to the appointment may be expressed as support for Israel, it will really reflect the power of the contractors seeking to defend their profits, and the employment opportunities they supply to various states and locales in the US

Both Hagel and Obama have asserted the importance of the relationship between the United States and Israel, which they say is a crucial ally in a problematic region.

Individuals like Hagel. with long records of speaking and acting in the public sphere, provide materials for those with various motives to oppose an appointment to a significant post, as well as for those who genuinely worry about the candidate's actions in that post.

Has Obama appointed a pacifist to the position of Defense Secretary?

Or an individual sobered by the human costs of war, and sincerely concerned to use military force only as a last resort?

If the latter describes Hagel, he can point to numerous Israeli military and security personnel with long experience at senior positions who express themselves in similar terms. The most recent Israeli military activities, i.e., the brief but impressive uses of force in Lebanon 2006, Gaza 2009 and 2012, all without aspiring to final solutions of difficult problems, suggest that a Hagel-like concern to avoid all out war is something that Israel's ranking generals and politicians learned the hard way, before Hagel appeared on their screens.

After Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, it is time that the US learned the same lesson. Hopefully, that is what Obama and Hagel are doing.

Note the use of "hopefully." This is one of those delicate moments when limited information about intentions makes judgment difficult.

No doubt activists concerned to support Israel, and activists concerned to support the employment and the profits associated with defense contractors, but perhaps saying their concern is with Israel, will produce exciting moments of tension during Senate hearings and floor debate, with no certainty of confirmation, rejection, or eventual withdrawal of Hagel's candidacy in the face of strong opposition.

The United States, and especially those supporting a George W. Bush style of using the military as a decisive tool to deal with problems likely to be insoluble, deserve at least a moment of sober reflection. Deposing Saddam Hussein was dramatic, marked with iconic pictures, shown time and again, of his statue being toppled and ultimately his hanging. It cost several thousand American lives, and an unknown number of Iraqis, mostly killed by other Iraqis when the strong and cruel government was no more, and the country's ethnic and religious rivalries were set free to wreck havoc on one another. Estimates range from a hundred thousand to over a million deaths, along with many more lives affected by injury or flight. Some see signs of incipient stability and a lessening of the carnage, but explosives in mosques, markets, and alongside government buildings, sometimes associated with suicides, continue to increase the toll.

Is the outcome, still unknown, worth the cost in human life and suffering? Similar numbers associated with killings in Rwanda and elsewhere have brought forth the Holocaust label, and demands that people responsible be tried as war criminals.

The weight of the United States in world politics may keep George W. Bush and American generals safe from the worries that have concerned Israeli officials and military personnel, against whom charges have been brought in various courts due to Lebanon and Gaza, where casualties were a tiny fraction of those in Iraq, and where Israel was responding to direct attacks on its soil.

Could Hagel's appointment reflect at least a bit of soul searching at the highest levels of the American government?

This note is not an endorsement of anything close to pacifism, and it comes with the hope that neither Hagel nor Obama are anywhere close to that foolish aspiration. The world remains a difficult place. Islam is a serious problem, no matter what governmental leaders are led to say, either in sincerity or by way of lip service. Islam is currently led, in significant measure, by individuals who preach the most vicious hatred and threats, especially against Jews but also against Christians, and against Muslims who do not follow extreme interpretations of Islamic traditions.

Dealing with what threatens the civilizations constructed in Israel, Western Europe, the United States and elsewhere demands steadfast opposition to the extreme aspirations of the madness afoot in this region, most prominently but not only in Iran. What the United States did and unleashed in Iraq made things worse.

The answer is not to abandon the option of force on account of naive assumptions about the universality of decent human nature, but neither is it to rush to an all-out war in the hope that destruction can bring about the same universality of decency.


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 05:06 AM
January 07, 2013
Scandals at the highest places

Scandals are prominent in Israeli media only two weeks before the national election. Neither is new, and both are being fanned by political activists concerned to use what they can to garner votes for themselves or the party they are supporting, as well by media personalities who know how to recognize a good story.

One is only the latest chapter in an issue that has been around for more than two years. Now it is in the headlines on account of a report published by the State Comptroller. The details are complex, and not all are available to the public.

The story may have began with disagreements about senior appointments between Gabi Ashkenazi, then Head of the IDF's General Staff (i.e., the commanding general), and his civilian superior, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. They deteriorated to what has been described as Mafia-style warfare at the top of the country's most important institutions. Friends of Ashkenazi, including a key aide along with a former lieutenant colonel who was given access to military matters even though he was not longer part of the military, with or without Ashkenazi's support or encouragement, and perhaps with the involvement of Ashkenazi's wife, gathered material in order to tarnish Barak's standing with senior officers and government officials, and worked to torpedo the appointment of a general out of favor with Ashkenazi who Barak wanted to become Ashkenazi's successor.

Barak, for his part, sought to foul Ashkenazi's actions as commanding general by withholding for months numerous promotions to the top ranks of the IDF, whose implementation required his approval as Defense Minister.

The warfare reached the point where each combatant brought his own photographer to important events, in order to assure how he would appear in pictures for newspapers and the historical record.

Among the charges being made are that personal animosities reached an inability to communicate, and affected the functioning of Israel's military. The prolonged dealing with the story--initially by a media expose, and later by several waves of inquiry and now by the State Comptroller's report--is said to damage public respect for the IDF, and the awe which the country's enemies ought to feel toward the IDF.

The Prime Minister also comes in for some sharp criticism, insofar as he knew of the ego-generated controversies at the juncture of the military and government, and did nothing to either calm the situation or to replace one or both of the individuals involved.

The second scandal also touches Barak and Netanyahu. It results not from an official report but from a interview published in the weekend edition of a leading newspaper (Yedioth Aharonoth) with Yuval Diskin, a former head of the intelligence and security service, Shin Bet, who had 38 years service in Israel's security functions, and participated with the most senior officials in discussions about Iran, Palestinian terror, and other vital matters. Diskin described Netanyahu, Barak, and Lieberman discussing the most sensitive matters in a casual fashion, not especially well informed despite being surrounded by experts, while Barak sipped hard liquor and all three enjoyed cigars whose smoke caused problems for others meant to be part of the discussion.

Diskin claimed that he had to speak out before it was too late, i.e., before a third intifada explodes in the country's face, or Israel blunders into a disastrous confrontation with Iran. He said that he and colleagues at his senior level have little confidence in the capacities of Netanyahu and Barak to lead the country. He described them as more concerned with their personal comfort and standing than with the welfare or future of Israel.

Even more than the State Comptroller's report, Diskin's interview seemed timed for a political impact. Netanyahu himself asked why Diskin felt it appropriate to expose his criticisms so prominently at this point, when he had years to say the same things.

Whatever the motives, there have been no impacts on the current election yet apparent in the polls. There has been some movement among parties over recent weeks, but the major blocs of right, left, and center appear to be stable. Netanyahu seems headed for another term as prime minister, but still open are the parties he will ask to serve with him, and which parties will agree to accept what ministerial portfolios.

Below the bluster of media personalities, former and present politicians, military personnel and other participants on one or another side of the blame games, Israelis can ask, What else is new? Alliances and cabals among military personnel who have known one another, competed and cooperated as they ascended in the ranks is familiar stuff in a society where the vast majority of Jews have experience at one or another level of the IDF, and even more experience talking about who and what they have known from basic training through long years in the reserves. Also well known is that senior politicians and generals have strong egos that may dominate their discussions about weighty matters.

In politics, as well as the military and other large organizations, dominant personalities may be essential for anyone aspiring to the top. Stories about Netanyahu and Barak not all that different from Yuval Diskin's exposes have circulated for years. Biographies of Douglas MacArthur, Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, as well as insider reports about Barack Obama, should leave no one feeling that the problem is exclusively Israeli. One needn't be a professor of history to surmise that excessive egoism at the highest levels has been around at least since Nero, or perhaps Jeremiah. While the prophet set a useful standard as someone willing to risk himself by speaking truth to power, he was also a certifiable nut. He put on a yoke to symbolize what would happen to the people who violate the Lord's will, and threatened his listeners with the most awful consequences of disease, destruction, and cannibalism if they did not do what he demanded.

The religious among us may view Jeremiah as a prophet who spoke the word of the Lord. Sceptics can wonder how many asylum inmates also claim to be speaking the word of the Lord.

Democracies are used to problematic personalities in high places, and have taken pains to buffer their excesses. Checks and balances along with a separation of powers appear in all decent governments, although with differences in detail. The American presidency and an independent Congress do not work like a parliament with a government chosen from the elected members. Common to all, however, are requirements of agreements between independent individuals or institutions for the implementation of major decisions. Modern governments depend at least as much on professional administrators expected to exercise their own judgment as on elected politicians. An independent judiciary as well as free media are also essential for any regime recognized as a functioning democracy.

If a true psychopath manages to reach the very top, news of erratic behavior is likely to seep out of the most inner forums. Moreover, the road to the top is not easy. Even the most attractive and best spoken must survive intense competition.

With all that is being said about the bizarre behavior of Gabi Ashkenazi, Ehud Barak, and Benyamin Netanyahu, no one has yet made a convincing case that they did not work together when required. They may have dithered and conspired. Details are still emerging. Currently it is not clear whether claims that they endangered the country are mostly the stuff of last minute political campaigning, or anything firm enough for a criminal indictment.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:18 AM
January 05, 2013
More on the US

Several of my notes commenting about the United States have produced angry responses, claiming that I do not understand, that my "opinions" are tainted, and that if I do not value the United States I should give up my citizenship.

What I think these responses reveal is yet another side of the United States. As in other traits present in a large and varied country, these may be held only by a segment of the population. They appear to be an excessive sensitivity about criticism, or an elevated patriotism that in some formulations comes with the expression, "Love it or leave it."

I would defend my notes by asking critics to read them again. I have been careful to avoid expressing casual opinions about the United States. Rather, I have cited internationally recognized data showing the standing of the US along with other countries. I have emphasized the puzzle inherent in the low US standing on a number of important social indicators, along with the high quality of science, engineering, and innovation coming from American companies, government laboratories, and universities.

The reality is that the United States scores lower than any other western democracy on important measures of health and welfare. I have employed the widely used summary measures of life expectancy and infant mortality. A recent measure of infant mortality shows the United States ranking 50th in the world. A measure of overall life expectancy (this one from the CIA) shows the US ranked 51st. I have also referred to data showing the US ranked first in obesity, which may contribute to the low score on life expectancy. In the fields of crime and violence, the US scores highest among western democracies in murder rates and rates of incarceration.

Some of my critics boast of their own health insurance, and some claim that any resident of the US can get free care in the emergency rooms of public hospitals.

No doubt that many Americans have more generous health coverage than available to the general populations of Europe or Israel. An Israeli can only dream of a private room if hospitalization is required, and should hope for a friend or relative to supplement the food and linens available from the hospital. However, primary care is without co-payment, and a visit with a specialist costs the equivalent of $5. Conditions are similar throughout Western Europe. American emergency rooms do not provide routine or preventative care, and waiting in agony to have one's life preserved until the next emergency is--by all the reports--not something to be envied.

One of the most telling statistics I have encountered concerns Israeli Arabs and Americans. Critics of Israel accuse the country of discriminating against its Arab citizens. And, indeed, the situation of Israeli Arabs resembles that of minorities in other democracies. Detailed comparisons of career opportunities, treatment by the police, access to education, and income equality goes beyond the scope of this note. However, on the important summary measure of life expectancy, Israeli Arabs do not live as long as Israeli Jews, but Israeli Arabs live longer than White Americans, and even longer when compared to American minorities.

My critics assert that America is the land of opportunity.

On this I have not quarreled. My own life began poor. I began working to earn money for college at the age of 14, benefited from university financial aid and part time employment through my BA and PhD, and spent almost half of my professional career in the United States. I've never figured out to my full satisfaction why I left Madison and an excellent department at the University of Wisconsin for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. My summary explanation has something to do with finding Israel an interesting and challenging place.

In response to my critics, I have thought more about American opportunity. No doubt the overall wealth of the US and the generosity of many Americans has allowed people like me to advanced beyond a less than opulent childhood, and has produced the development of world class universities, corporate, and governmental sources of medical, scientific, and technological research. However, the United States is not alone, and may not be the world leader in such traits. I have come to know other countries through professional contacts, travel, research, and the research of my students, and I know of several places that--perhaps especially since World War II--compare with the United States on the criteria of personal opportunity. I have found two separate measures of innovation coming from reputable sources. One comes from The Economist and was sponsored by the American firm Cisco, and the other from an organ of the United Nations. Both place the United States high, but not among the very highest countries on their measures of innovation. Countries ranked higher than the US on one or both indicators include Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, Israel, South Korea, Singapore, Finland, United Kingdom, Denmark, Hong Kong, and Ireland.

Israel is one of many countries at least partially dependent on the United States. For that reason, I worry about the wisdom of American foreign policies. Some have been admirable, but some have been worrisome in the extreme. Obama's demand that Israel not build in neighborhoods of Jerusalem was not wise and has not been productive. The initiatives begun by George W. Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan were poorly conceived and tragic in their outcomes. Saddam Hussein was not an angel, but he kept a lid on a country with many internal problems. Since the destruction of his regime by the United States, there may have been more than one million deaths, caused mostly by Iraqis killing Iraqis. That number resembles what occurred in Rwanda, and has been described by the labels of genocide and Holocaust.

As a student and then teacher of politics and government, I have learned and taught that freedom of inquiry and criticism are essential traits of democracy. They are assured to Americans by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, and not cancelled for an American who leaves home. The 14th Amendment provides citizenship to those born in the US (like me), and the State Department does not make it easy for the relatively few Americans who seek to renounce their citizenship (which I have no intention of doing).

I have also learned that inquiry and criticism are key elements of Judaism. There is a story from the time of Solomon that wealthy individuals financed the education of bright, but poor boys. The tradition continued in many communities of the Diaspora. If my grandfathers had not left Lithuania and Poland in the late 19th century, and if Europe had been spared both world wars, someone like me may have been given free schooling and then married to a rabbi's daughter. I only knew one of my grandfathers, but I continue to thank both of them for leaving home.

The importance of criticism appears clearly in the Biblical prophets. Few of my American friends may understand the haftorah that they read on Sabbath and the holidays, but they would profit from English versions, especially of Jeremiah, Amos and Hosea. Each of them were severe, even extreme critics of the economic and political elites of their time. Jeremiah was accused of being a traitor, and people close to the king tried to kill him. The king provided Jeremiah sanctuary, listened to his claims (rants?), but said that he was powerless to act as the prophet demanded (Jeremiah 38).

The tradition of free criticism continues in the Talmud. Every page contains arguments, with the rabbis criticizing one another--and occasionally ridiculing one another--for imperfect understandings of religious law.

My own analyses of Israeli politics have emphasized the Jewish traditions of outspoken controversy and freedom of criticism as the best explanations of Israel's democracy. This is one of very few among the 100 or so new countries founded after World War II, almost all of them claiming to be democracies, that have actually preserved a high quality of democracy. Israel's case is made interesting insofar as very few of its founders came from countries with well established democratic norms and practices. Moreover, the country went through difficult crises of poverty, warfare, and mass immigration (almost all of it from non-democratic countries) without giving up its democracy.

I have no aspirations to persuade American free enterprise/individualistic ideologues that comprehensive public health insurance, gun control, or additional features of every other Western democracy ought to be adopted in the United States. I aspire to disputes about matters of comparative detail, explorations of national differences, and especially why the US is such a prominent outlier on conventional norms. I do not think of myself as promoting wild or unanchored opinions. My overall attitude about the United States is positive, but critical. I enjoy a good argument with individuals not inclined to view anything that appears to them unconventional as forbidden.

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 10:26 AM
January 02, 2013
The boredom (current) and excitement (potential) of Israeli politics

The election is boring, but the formation of the next government may be more exciting.

Voters are shifting a bit between parties, mostly on account of two new parties in the center and a newly energized party on the right. What is boring is that the major blocs made up of parties to the right and left of center are similar to what they were in the outgoing Knesset.

The outgoing Knesset looked like this

Extreme right (outside the government)

Power to Israel 2 seats

National unity 2

Right of center to centrist (in the government)

Jewish Home 3


Torah Judaism 5

Israel our Home 15

Likud 27

Independence 5

Center to left of center to extreme left (outside the government)

Kadima 28

Labor 8

Meretz 3

Democratic Front for Peace and Equality 4 (mostly Arab)

National Democratic Alliance 4 (mostly Arab)

R'am-T"al 3 (mostly Arab)

Recent polling has shown the blocs to the right and left of center more or less at those levels of strength

Power to Israel (extreme right, racist, Kahanist, not likely to be in the government) 2 seats

Parties that might be in the government

Jewish Home 14-15

Likud our Home 34-35


Torah Judaism 6

The Movement led by Tsipi Livni 10

There is a Future 9

Labor 16-18

Parties likely to be outside and to the left of the government

Meretz 3-4

Democratic Front for Peace and Equality 4

National Democratic Alliance/Arab Democratic Party 4

R"am-T"al 3

What is likely to remain the same or similar

The extreme right wing party Power to Israel with 2 seats

Ultra-Orthodox parties SHAS and Torah Judaism with a total of 15-17 seats

Left-of-center Meretz with 3-4 seats

Three largely Arab parties staying with 11 or so seats

There is some moving around in the large realm from right of center to left of center. Kadima is disappearing and supplying its former votes throughout the range from Jewish Home on the right through The Movement, Labor, and There is a Future in the center or a bit to the left of center.

Likud has not done well since combining with Israel our Home. The two parties had 42 seats in the outgoing Knesset and currently have dropped to 34 seats in the lowest of the polls, and might continue to drop. However, Likud our Home remains twice the size of the next largest party, and remains the favorite for creating the next government. The losses of Likud our Home have gone mostly to Jewish Home, i.e., staying within the right of center bloc.

Assuming this line up continues through election day, January 22nd, and that Prime Minister Netanyahu will get the nod from President Peres, after Pres consults with the heads of all the parties and asks them who has the best chance of forming a government, the question is, what will Netanyahu do?

Here is the potential for some excitement, and even change in the nature of Israel's government.

There is, to be sure, a boring alternative that produces more of the same, i.e., Likud our Home together with a larger Jewish Home along with SHAS and Torah Judaism. That will produce a majority of about 66 seats.

The alternative that is within the realm of the possible, or even likely, and can make things interesting, is for Netanyahu to add Yair Lapid's There is a Future. That would produce a stronger majority of 75 or so seats. It would also put in his government two parties (Jewish Home as well as Lapid's There is a Future) whose leaders have expressed themselves in favor of pressure against the Haredim to leave their academies and go into the army and then to work, and to pay something closer to the taxes imposed on Israelis generally.

There has long been tension and even animosity between the Orthodox and the ultra-Orthodox. Jewish Home's new leader, Naftali Benet, is more outspoken than his predecessors in saying that the Heredim must do their share in the military and the economy.

Likud our Home, Jewish Home, and There is a Future without the ultra-Orthodox parties would not be enough to produce a majority of the Knesset. If Labor and The Movement would also join the government, Netanyahu could have a coalition with a large majority in the mid-70s without the Haredim. If one of the three center-left parties stayed out, Netanyahu could still create a government with about 67 seats, but without the ultra-Orthodox.

The combinations are intriguing, and the difficulties considerable. Involved in the negotiations will not only which parties will agree to enter the coalition, but in exchange for what. At issue will be the document that expresses the intentions of the government, but that will not be the hardest nut. Israeli politicians, like their counterparts elsewhere, know how to formulate ideas that sound great without imposing painful commitments. More difficult will be the assignment of ministries. Just to identify two prominent examples, it will be important to Labor who gets the Finance Ministry, and it will be important to The Movement who gets the Foreign Ministry. Currently Netanyahu is promising the Foreign Ministry to Lieberman, to be held open for some time while Lieberman deals with his judicial problem. It is hard to imagine that the free-enterprise Netanyahu will let the all important Finance Ministry go to the socialists of Labor or to anyone who would make them happy.

Most difficult for Netanyahu might be the creation of a government without the ultra-Orthodox. Not only do they contribute to his emphasis of Yiddishkeit, but they have moved over the years from indifference about settlement to supporting settlement with the creation of two major Haredi towns, Modiin Ilit and Beitar Ilit, on the Palestinian side of the "Green Line," i.e., the 1967 borders. With the Haredim in the government, Lapid may be disinclined to join. Or if he did join, the tension between the Haredim, Lapid, and his party colleagues, as well as with Jewish Home, might make Israeli politics more interesting after the election than during the election campaign.

What is likely to remain the same is what will come from the stability in the major voting blocs. Right of center parties had 71 seats in the outgoing Knesset, and seem likely to have at least 66 seats in the incoming Knesset (or 75 assuming, as expected, that There is a Future joins the government).

Why the stability?

Blame Hamas, or more broadly the problems in reaching agreement with Palestinians.

Recent polls have shown a majority of Israelis, including a large number of voters who support right of center parties, in favor of dividing the West Bank and Jerusalem with the Palestinians for the sake of peace. However, less than a majority of Israelis expect that such a deal can come to pass. While the left blames Netanyahu for intransegence, a large part of the center and the right, along with media commentators from all parts of the spectrum put much of the blame on internal problems of the Palestinians. Creating this pessimism is not only the past rejections of Israeli offers by Arafat and Abbas, but also the strength of Hamas and parties even more extreme, which adhere to rejecting Israel's right to exist anywhere in what they call Palestine.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Tel: +972-2-532-2725

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


Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:26 PM