The word means situations of confusion, mess, or chaos, and it applied to several features of the US and Israel as we departed one and headed towards the other. According to professional sources, "balagan" came to Israeli Hebrew from our Persian cousins as well as some other regional languages.Donald Trump fired the head of the FBI who was looking into Donald's relations with Russia. By some reports, the President had demanded that the head cop be loyal to him. Commentators are comparing that to Hitler's demanding loyalty to his person from underlings, as opposed to loyalty to the German state and its laws. By other reports, the President wouldn't be appointing a new FBI head until he could be sure that the organization would mind it's manners.Commentators were quick to compare this with moves of Richard Nixon that helped to unravel his presidency. In another parallel to Nixon's story, a leading Democratic Senator was demanding the appointment of a Special Prosecutor.Closer to home, the police were recommending an indictment against Sara Netanyahu and some others involved in the management of the Prime Minister's residence. The items appeared trivial (her charging to the government the care of an ailing parent, and exaggerating the number of guest at functions paid for by the government), and the Prime Minister said they weren't worth prosecuting. Again going back to Nixon, it was only some campaign shenanigans that rolled through cover-ups to send him back to California. It's not uncommon for police, prosecutors, and judges to stick to the letter of the law, and use a seemingly minor infraction to go after someone with a long record of violations that had evaded prosecution.And while Sara may be steaming, Bibi also has reasons to worry. The police have questioned more than 90 people involved in giving Bibi and Sara gifts amounting to several hundred thousand dollars. Bibi has said time and again that there isn't anything to find, but among the gift givers are individuals who have gotten special treatment. And there are inquiries into Bibi's efforts to pressure the media, and irregularities with respect to the purchase of submarines from a German defense contractor.Neither the investigations into Trump nor those into the Natanyahus will finish quickly or quietly. There's sure to be pressure on investigators and prosecutors to be more than careful. However, but the FBI and the US Justice Department, as well as the Israeli police and Justice Ministry are large bureaucracies, with individuals who seek to advance their concerns via contacts with journalists. American reporters are speculating when Trump's Deep throat will begin talking.Both Israel and the US are secure democracies, with strong institutions staffed by professionals, and back-up routines to take over from the self-conceived irreplaceables currently in office. Society-shaking crises are unlikely.In the US and Israel there are restive activists squawking about the unjust accusations made against their favorites, and politicians trying to sense which way to jump. Commentators from home and abroad are also expressing themselves from several points of Israeli and American politics. We can expect a lot of rumors and scenarios.At home, we had trouble tuning in to established commentators on public radio and television. An 80-year old network has been closed and replaced with something else after months of on-again off-again decision making. When we returned, the country was in an interim period of wondering what programming would replace what we're used to.
The wags are saying that this mess began with Bibi's effort to control the media, which got out of control when other pols began to input their genius. Still pending are the prospects of further muddling by the courts.There's also confusion about recent legislation to impose a special tax on people who own three or more dwellings. It was the brain child of the populist Minister of Finance, who earlier made a name for himself by lowering the cost of cell phone service. This effort is meant to lower the cost of housing, recently escalating as young couples earning more than their parents have sought better housing. The scheme also reflects a cultural norm of home owning. The idea is to free up additional units as landlords sell their holdings to avoid the tax on multiple units. However, it is likely to increase rents, as other landlords pass on the new tax to their tenants, and it's bothersome for individuals who prefer to invest in real estate rather than in the stock market.The Supreme Court has agreed with petitioners that the enactment of the law was flawed. For the time being, the justices are asking the Knesset to reconsider it, with an implied threat to act if the Knesset does not.So renters, investors, and potential home buyers are wondering what will happen to the costs of their various opportunities. Just as we were going to the airport, a note from a friend at Wesleyan University, my alma mater, reminded me about BDS. Students objected to the availability of Israeli products in university cafeterias and stores. The Jewish president straddled the issue by saying that he opposed BDS, would not ban Israeli humus from campus facilities, but would allow students to make their own decisions about what to eat.The college president has been firmly in the middle for some time. He went on record opposing boycotts, but wrote that he was abhorred by some of Israel's actions.Wesleyan is by no means alone as a prestigious institution, some of whose students and faculty express their ignorance and Intolerance for the Jewish state.Given Israel's record of minority-majority relations compared to the US and other western countries, it's tolerance of sexual minorities compared to its Muslim neighbors, and the moderation of its defense forces in a context of chronic efforts of Muslim extremists, it appears that an institution's tolerance of BDS qualifies for the label of anti-Semitism.One doubts that colleges and universities that protect BDS activists under the heading of academic freedom would tolerate students or professors who employ the N word while discussing illegitimate births, drug use, prostitution, and/or violence among African Americans.
The tolerance of anti-Semitism on campuses but not racism toward Blacks seems especially odd in the context of a few comparisons between Israel and the US. Israel's Arab minority has better health indicators than White Americans, and much better indicators than American minorities. FBI reports show ten US cities with 20-50 homicides per 100,000 in a recent year, while Israel's annual murder rate is less than 2 per 100,000.
Donald and Bibi will be around for a while, but it may not be wise to bet too much on their political longevity. Anti-Semitism will remain fashionable on campuses in the US and elsewhere, and attract some Jews as enthusiasts or wafflers who proclaim a selective variety of academic freedom. Given Israel's success in a number of fields, including countering this variation of an old hatred, it seems that most to be pitied are the parents and students paying $60,000 and more a year in tuition where BDS is fashionable.Comments welcome-- Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)Department of Political ScienceHebrew University of Jerusalem[email protected]