Politics can be as cheap, demagogic, and seemingly stupid here as elsewhere. Americans living under Donald Trump shouldn't claim oneupsmanship. His Israeli equivalents can be just as hard to understand, or shameful.

 
One recent fiasco concerns manipulations by the Minister of Culture and Sport, Meri Regev. According to reports, she worked to bring a non-league, friendly soccer match between Israel and Argentina to the Jerusalem stadium rather than where it was scheduled in Haifa, and at the same time assure favored individuals choice seats, as well as a picture of herself with the Argentinian's star player.
 
It all came tumbling down with the apparent success of Palestinians and others to persuade the Argentinians to avoid a trip to Israel or Jerusalem in the context of BDS.
 
The cancellation  monopolized the news for several days, with politicians from across the spectrum making the obvious comments about Palestinians, BDS, and the nuttiness of Meri Regev. 
 
There are, however, competing explanations of who to blame.
 
Meri Regev insists that it was Palestinian threats against key players.
 
Both Iran and Qatar are said to have pressured the Argentinians not to participate.
 
Some Palestinians are putting the onus on the Israeli decision to have the game in Jerusalem. They claim to have been willing to accept it where it was originally scheduled, in Haifa.
 
None of those explanations may have been as important as the disinclination of the Argentinians players and coach to spend time with a friendly game in Israel only a few days before participating in something far more important, i.e., the early rounds of the World Cup in Russia. They had expressed opposition before the event was scheduled, then re-scheduled in Jerusalem, and then cancelled.
 
Ms Regev is under fire on several accounts. Her insistence on having a high profile appearance in Jerusalem gets some of the blame for the cancellation. She also allocated government money to what was essentially a private effort to have an important team engage in a friendly match against an Israeli team. And she allocated so many tickets to people she apparently wanted to favor as to make ordinary fans angry at their inability to acquire tickets.
 
The cartoonist of Ha'aretz portrayed Minister Regev alongside a carnival board, allowing those paying 20 shekels to put their face into a hole, and be photographed as if they were shaking hands with the Argentinian star.
 
The State Comptroller has begun an inquiry into the several problems associated with the game, including the matter of a public expenditure and the allocation of tickets. Given the Comptroller's typically assiduous concern for all the facts and a balanced report, we can expect to hear from him in a year or so, when his report will bring the issue back to the media for one evening's news.
 
Israeli worriers are concerned that similar phenomena may occur surrounding the projected appearance of the high profile Eurovision song competition next year. Israeli politicians are already insisting that it be in Jerusalem, despite the likelihood of ultra-Orthodox demonstrations against the violation of the Sabbath, and Palestinians with European friends winding up for demands that such an event cannot possibly occur in a divided city where their rights are denied, or maybe nowhere in Israel.
 
The cartoonist of Ma'ariv portrayed Gazans charging the border, saying, "Forward, we have Eurovision to cancel."
 
Competing with all that for media attention was an announcement by MK Michael Oren, a former Ambassador to the US and currently having a title of doubtful value as Deputy Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister. He proclaimed that it was time to invest heavily in upping the population of the Golan from something like 20,000 Israelis to 100,000. To do this, he proposes spending a lot money, to be used among other things in building a rail line to the Golan, developing a Safari Park, and otherwise making the place attractive. He links it all to the chaos in Syria, and the opportunity to exploit the problems of Assad's government.
 
A couple of days before his proclamation on the Golan, Oren had proposed paying non-Orthodox American Jews to migrate to Israel. Bringing 10,000 of these Jews per year would, according to Oren, be a key step against their assimilation in the US.
 
When asked if such investments would not take money from more pressing concerns in health and education, Oren responded with claims that it would be new money, obtained from some unspecified source.
 
One of the Golan's attractions is its lack of development and a small population. It seems more useful for the continuation of stock raising, i.e., steers for kosher slaughter, then steaks and hamburger, than any enormous investment in a rail line whose construction will have to overcome a problematic terrain for the sake of a sparse population.
 
There are also unknowns about Syria. Will more Israelis building homes on the Golan, assuming they find nearby places of work, keep the restive Syrians, along with their Iranian and Hezbollah allies, from lobbing occasional missiles or doing other unpleasantness? The area remains as a territorial claim of Syria, and there isn't much evidence of an international consensus that it should be assigned to Israel.
 
Alas, Israel is not the only country whose politics include what is less than admirable. While some Americans are enthusiastic about what Donald Trump is claiming for his encounter with Kim Jong-un, others see it as the hype of a tycoon with several corporate bankruptcies in his history, whose presidency has been colored more by charges of fake news than real accomplishments.
 
Comments welcome


-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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