Israel and the world

 Those maps of the Middle Ages that put Jerusalem at the center of the world are still relevant.

They were created by Christians whose faith began with the life and death of Christ in and around this city.

​Despite surveys in western countries that show declines in religious adherence or literal acceptance of Biblical stories, the religious and nonreligious continue to pay disproportionate attention to Israel.

The interest shows itself in the efforts of media, governments, and political activists. BDS is prominent, but by no means alone.

Trying to determine the amount or intensity of support from friends as opposed to threat from enemies would involve months of serious research, and would come up against organizations and governments that hide or distort their involvement. 

Among the squabbles in recent months has been a governmental proposal to require the clearer identification of organizations supported by foreign governments. At the focus were civil rights organizations, usually critical of Israel, that receive financial support from European governments and the EU. 

Knesset opponents of the government charged that the measure was designed by rightists in order to expose leftists as being supported in improper ways, and would not reveal the range of support provided by overseas rightists for organizations friendly to those currently in government.

Leftist critics of the government focused on Israel Hayom (Israel Today), a giveaway newspaper that has eclipsed the distribution of all other daily newspapers. It has been funded by gambling magnate and Netanyahu enthusiast Sheldon Adelson, and may have achieved financial independence due to the advertisements attracted by its huge circulation. The news provided by the paper is as decent as that on offer by other papers in the left or center of the spectrum, but its editorial tilt is clearly to the right, and especially in support of the Prime Minister. Bibi's actions get prominence, and scandals associated with Sara that are headlined in other media appear in the inner pages. Israelis refer to the paper as Bibipress. I've noticed it being read by Arabs while drinking morning coffee in the French Hill shopping center, and have wondered if they choose it on account of its being available free from a nearby location, rather than reflecting anything akin to their politics. Those Arabs speak among themselves in Arabic, but read the news in Hebrew.

Other activities on the right of Israel's spectrum that depend on outside financing come from religious Jews of the US and Europe whose mission is to settle Jews in the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

BDS is the darling of Palestinian enthusiasts and others of the far left. 

One can argue about how far out on the spectrum of right and left should be placed other activities that depend on outside financing. There are several civil rights organizations with both Jews and Arabs among their activists, and Peace Now, all of them on the near left or further out, depending on one's perspective. Breaking the Silence is an organization of former or present soldiers who have publicized errant actions toward Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank.  Opponents charge it with revealing information having little to do with international law or morality, and providing to enemies military information that should be confidential.

There is no shortage of organizations on the right, that pose themselves as defenders of Israel against domestic and overseas leftists. Arutz sheva is a radio station speaking for West Bank settlers and their supporters, with web sites in Hebrew and English. Im Tirzu (if you will, taken from a line by Herzl, " "If you will it, it is no dream.") takes aim at the what activists see as the excesses of BDS and other critics of Israel. 

Arguably in the center of the spectrum are organizations that see themselves as concerned primarily to defend Israel from unfair attacks. Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is one of these, staking its position against those who would boycott Israel's institutions of higher education.

There are frequent--some say constant--US and European government efforts to influence Israel.

Just recently we have been hearing of the Obama administration making one last effort to bring peace to us and the Palestinians. Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry are repeating the mantra that Israel will be secure only by withdrawing from occupied territories, and accepting the creation of a Palestinian State. 

To skeptics, this seems an odd time for the lamest of ducks to begin something that neither Palestinians nor Israelis have shown that they want, in the context of regional chaos that adds to both sides' disinclination to do anything dramatic. It also comes toward the end of an Administration with one failure after another in the Middle East. Obama's Cairo speech, his participation in an attack on Libya that produced chaos comparable to that of his predecessor's attack on Iraq, his waffling with respect to Syrian chemical weapons and the entry of Russia has left the President and his colleagues with a reputation for impotence, as viewed by Middle Easterners on both sides of the Israel/Arab divide.

Recent attacks in Paris, California, and now Brussels suggest that western governments should spend more time protecting their citizens from Islamic extremists than pushing Israel to make concessions. The hoary argument that the creation of a Palestinian state will calm the world seems more suitable to stand-up comics than serious policymakers.

Israelis and friends charge that not enough is being done to counter the antagonism of organizations, governments, media, and activists.

Yet changing minds--especially of those who are intense--is not something to take on with expectations of success. 

There is a unit in the Office of the Prime Minister which organizes campaigns against boycotts and other issues. More prominent are the activities of individual Israelis, overseas Jews, and other friends who speak, write, manage web sites, and organize tours of Israel for those they see as individuals who can be persuaded, or are already friends and might benefit from encouragement.

All told it seems like the world is divided about us. On one side are those who oppose us, and subject Israel to scrutiny and condemnation far out of proportion to its actions. On the other side are those who are intense, shrill, loud, and often extreme in defending all that Israel does and condemning opponents and enemies.

Most likely, a large majority of people don't care about us. We can wish that there were more like that, but we are in this place, which has long been central to Jews, Christians, and Muslims with a spiritual attachment to it. Now it is also important to political ideologues who may not be religious, but who have acquired a  political mission to destroy or defend the status quo..

Today is Purim in Jerusalem and other walled cities. Tel Aviv and other places celebrated yesterday. 

We're still here, despite Haman and many others like him. פורים שמח

Comments welcome


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
[email protected]