Archive for February 25, 2010

On it goes. Get used to it.

February 25, 2010 Leave a comment


By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–There has been considerable criticism of the inclusion of Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs on Israel’s list of national heritage sites. Players as lowly as Israeli leftists and as mighty as the General Secretary of the United Nations have made the following points.

No Muslim or Christian sites merited inclusion on the list. Prime Minister Netanyahu showed how he panics under pressure. After a list was announced without Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs, he ignored the reasons for overlooking them, gave into demands from the religious right, and added them along with some nationalist bombast that helped inflame opposition.

Adding those sites, both of which are under Israeli control, may not change facts on the ground. Insofar as they are both over the 1967 lines, making an issue of them in Netanyahu’s style makes it even more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to begin negotiations.
All that is true.

Official responses that Israel is a Jewish state and protects the access of all communities to their religious sites does not deal with the insensitivity associated with point #1. It would not shake Israel’s security to include some of the structures prized by Christians and Muslims as part of the country’s national heritage. Yet even that might provoke protest. One can imagine the various Christian communities that squabble over the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Muslim authorities objecting to “Israeli adoption” of their sites.

Point #2 also has merit. Prime Minister Netanyahu is a skilled politician, but limited by a tendency to overlook the need for balance. He has slipped too far into language or actions when pressed by religious and nationalist constituencies. However, his position is not an easy one. Those groups are part of his base, and they have shown a willingness to withdraw support and topple a government that does not bend to their intensities. Americans whose health care suffers from the insistence of extremists pro and con on abortion should recognize the problem.

Point #3 is the most interesting from the larger perspective of the peace process. Once again we see international figures pampering Muslim sensitivities, and adding to the weakness of the Palestinians by responding to their whimpers. With no substantive changes resulting from a  list of national heritage sites, the pressure is on Israel to be more feeling rather than on Palestinians to approach the table with a commitment to getting the best deal they can.

Justice is as elusive in the matter of Israel-Palestine as it is in every other conflict over public policy. Should the borders be here or there is not different inherently than the provisions to be added or excluded from a nation’s program of health insurance.

Best to forget the endless quest for justice and to pursue a deal that will make things better. If it is hard when the dispute is about costs and benefits in one country, it is harder for a dispute infected by claims of religious priority, and when outsiders wanting to be politically correct encourage intransigence with comments and money, and others provide incitement and munitions. 

So we are stuck. Palestinians threaten violence (a third intifada) over actions that may have been insensitive, but change nothing. Israel’s government is showing no inclination to make tangible concessions when none seem to come from Palestinians. Jewish settlements continue to grow and add their complications to any deal that can be made.

Pessimism is not appropriate. Realists should be used to this long running scenario, and recognize an anomaly among nations: no Palestinian state; no clear boundaries and constant bashing for Israel; a fluid autonomy for the Palestinian communities in the West Bank; and an infectious disease ward for Gaza.

The world accommodates numerous other anomalies: governments in the Third World whose reach does not extend beyond the capital city, or even beyond the presidential palace; Lebanon under the control of Syria and/or Iran; Spain with unresolved regional issues; Kashmir; and one wealthy democracy without health insurance for all its people.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.


Innocence is better than bravery

February 25, 2010 1 comment


By Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM–Are the Dubai police for real? They report to have identified another 15 suspects in the killing of Hamas terrorist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh bringing the total to 26. Most, if not all, are said to have had Israeli identities, European and Australian passports, and American credit cards. The police still insist that the passports couldn’t have been forged. Had that been the case, the Dubai airport scanning system would have spotted them.

But how can the passports be real, when the rightful owners have theirs in safe keeping and insist that they had nothing to do with the plot? In one case, the man in whose name a German passport was obtained had never been a German citizen, even though his parents were born in Germany. He’s an ultra-Orthodox Jew and father of a dozen children – not the usual profile of a Mossad operative.

Because of the nature of the affair and the inconclusive information we’re being fed, it has provided a welcome opportunity for a lot of people to blame those they like to see guilty. At the same time, those who admire heists have enthusiastically approved the perpetrators. Few, if any, seem to know the facts.

Israel, though by no means the only suspect, figures prominently among detractors and admirers alike. Its enemies have castigated the Jewish state for yet another act of  “state-sponsored terrorism” while many Israelis as well as supporters abroad have assumed that this was another praiseworthy Israeli bravado of the Entebbe variety.

 Understandably, Israel neither admits nor denies involvement. To start with, there’s still no evidence that Israelis did it. Al-Mabhouh is said to have had many enemies and the Dubai police report that two of the new suspects fled by boat to Iran, not a likely hiding place for Israelis. But even if it was an Israeli Mossad production, there would be no reason to admit it. Nor would there be reason to deny it as Israel believes that the fear of its long arm acts as a deterrent. The thought that every Hamas operative may pay with his life for his misdeeds is said to inhibit many more from getting involved.

There are precedents. Thus, for example, all the terrorists who carried out the deadly attack on Israelis at the Munich Olympics were systematically “eliminated.” 

And then there’s fantasy. Inglourious Basterds, to cite a current example, is a horror film I couldn’t sit through. But many people I know enjoyed it – and the chair of the US Anti-Defamation League praised it – because it’s a fantasy: the day dream of victims, perhaps. Though it has been described as one of the three “Jewish” movies nominated for an Oscar, I fail to see anything Jewish in it, despite the characters. That may also be why I fail to get excited about the Dubai affair. Though it would be hypocritical to shed tears over the demise of arch-murderer al-Mabhouh – and his assassination may indeed save lives – that kind of activity doesn’t go well with my Zionist idealism. An execution may have been necessary in the eyes of some, but that doesn’t make it a virtue.

It does, however, feed my ghetto paranoia. I’m always afraid that they (whoever “they” may be) will make us pay for our alleged cleverness. That’s why I’m so eager to find clues that would put the blame for the assassination on some place other than Israel. The absence of conclusive evidence of Israeli involvement is helpful to the squeamish among us like me who prefer innocence to bravery.


Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his time between Canada and Israel.