Neither of the societies that I have called my own are at peace. Neither are they at war. It's something in between, with enough tension to cause us to think, or at least to wonder.
Here there continues the almost daily efforts of Arabs or Palestinians--whatever term is appropriate--to kill Jews. The condition has been with us since the 1920s, with ups and downs between individual attacks that usually fail, and greater uprisings with casualties in the thousands. For a bit more than a decade, we've been closer to individual attacks, with thousands dying only in Gaza when Israelis responded to surges in missiles.
There, i.e., the US, remains the most violent society among western democracies. As here, the better off generally escape the carnage, although a high overall intake of drugs and alcohol have something to do with considerable carnage on the roads that touches people who begin their journeys in better neighborhoods.
Race continues to be the problem for the US.
Latest signs that the Civil War has not entirely ended came from the university town of Charlottesville, Virginia, famed for its association with Thomas Jefferson. A KKK/Alt-right rally against the prospect of removing a statue of a Confederate hero, including chants against Jews and a counter rally produced a drive-in killing and wounding by a young racist who crossed a couple of state lines in order to participate in the action.
It's causing another storm around the President, with Donald Trump in a whirlpool of inelegant comments, condemning extremists of both left and right.
Among Israel's latest was a 29 year old Palestinian mother of five who was moved to attack Jews, said to be provoked by a dispute with her husband and perhaps wanting to end it all with a nationalistic suicide by cop. As things unfolded, an ultra-Orthodox young man ran away, and she managed to stab a man in the uniform of Jerusalem's Light Rail. She took him for a Jew, but like her, he was an Arab from East Jerusalem.
The most recent mistake was not the first time that an Arab terrorist chose one of their own. There was a drive by shooting years ago in French Hill that killed an Arab jogger, whose father was a close adviser of Yassir Arafat.
Contending forces are only part of both societies. Most people get along, with people from different communities working and shopping alongside one another. There appear to be more friendships or accommodations than expressions of hatred.
There's incitement in both countries. This week Israel arrested, yet again, a rabble rouser who chronically claims that Jews are threatening to destroy al Aqsa mosque. There are Arab and Jewish extremists among Knesset Members who operate close to the borders of parliamentary immunity while asserting that sacred sites are under threat.
Some years ago, I sat in my office in Madison, Wisconsin, and listened to a student rail against the Jews. When I asked if she realized who she was talking to, and that numerous others of her teachers were Jews, she admitted that she had never encountered someone she knew was a Jew.
It's been more than a century and one half since the American Civil War formally ended, but it took another century to do away--formally--with the official segregation that remained. Now there are statistics showing that segregation in neighborhoods and schools throughout the country is no less, and maybe even greater (given its spread to the north), than before Brown vs Board of Education. Prior to the Civil War, Wisconsin was on a route of the underground railway that moved escaped slaves to safety in Canada. By one report, the city of Milwaukee is now the most segregated city in the country.
Donald Trump isn't an ordinary President, but he's following a well established routine by sending emissaries to the Middle East in order to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. He has said that he'll help the parties settle their dispute, but no one should be betting the farm.
Ranking Palestinians have been speaking in different ways. Some seem to be pointedly ignoring a freezing of Israeli settlements in their demands for what must occur, while others repeat that condition along with insisting on a Palestinian state, borders from before 1967, a capital in Jerusalem, and an appropriate solution for refugees.
It may not help their case that Mahmoud Abbas sent a birthday greeting this week to Kim Jong-un.
Pessimists note that the President's team for this mission includes his valued son-in-law and a well-placed American Jew, but they have little or no staff to inform them of relevant details in the 50 or 100 years of background, and the numerous factions with influence in the Palestinian community or the factions with influence on the Israeli government.
Moreover, worries about the age and health of Mahmoud Abbas combine with Prime Minister Netanyahu's domestic problems to introduce two prospects of political instability in the regimes that must deal with issues of great sensitivity.
And it doesn't take much insight into Palestinian or Israeli politics to guess that decades of pressure and incentives from outside, and several rounds of frustrating meetings does not auger well for yet another effort.
Politics, like government and much else in life, operates by routines. One of the books I published on my way up the academic ladder was The Routines of Politics (1970). Among presidential routines is doing something about Israel and the Palestinians, rather than to concede that the most prominent problems are insoluble, at least in the context that is foreseeable. Sending Kushner to the Middle East may be intended to keep him out of trouble closer to home, away from investigators concerned about his earlier flub, caught talking with Russians about Dad's campaign.
If the effort gets off the ground, it may cause more harm than good. Left on their own, the professionals of Israel and the Palestine Authority seem able to make life better and safer for both communities by accommodations in the nitty gritty below the notice of either side's politicians. Yet the professionals are limited when individuals thought to be running their communities, or competing for attention, raise issues of high sensitivity that defy treatment.
Along the way, they may excite unhappy Palestinian housewives or others who already hate Jews, to grab a knife and seek martyrdom. And on the Israeli side, there is a parallel hatred which spills over to trashing Arab property, random killing, or the horror of a few years ago, when three men kidnapped an Arab boy and burned him to death in the Jerusalem forest.
FBI statistics show thousands of annual murders of Whites by Whites and more thousands of Blacks by Blacks, and a few hundred cross-racial murders.
Americans may have about the same chance of being killed by someone of another race as Israeli Jews have of being killed by an Arab.
What seem to be the most fanciful of symbolic acts, i.e., removing a flag from a prominent pole or taking down the statue of a hero associated with a state that no longer exists, can produce competing demonstrations capable of producing injuries and death. The two terms served by an African American President did not made a noticeable dent in the problems of the Black underclass, and may have contributed to an uptick in White racism.
We can argue how satisfying or problematic are Israeli and American societies, how and why each got to its present situation, and what might be done to improve things or keep them from getting worse. Cynics see indications that neither the American Civil War nor the Israeli War of 1948 have gone fully into the history books.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem