This is an interesting place. Often it's exciting. Sometimes too exciting.
Remember those medieval maps that showed Jerusalem at the center of the world? Now it's more likely Washington, but Jerusalem can be close.
That's the case with the Trump-Netanyahu coalition with respect to Iran, or maybe it's the Netanyahu-Trump coalition.
It's Death to Israel more often than to America that Iranians chant. And now the Israeli Prime Minister is cheering the American President for his ending what to some looked like a decent deal, and to others a product of Obama-Kerry naivite.
Several IDF attacks on Iranian installations in Syria help to put Jerusalem as close as Washington to the center of this issue.
A week ago we were obsessed with a more local item: whether, and how, the Israeli Knesset could overturn a decision of the Supreme Court that had outlawed an earlier decision by the Knesset.
The US pull out from the Iran deal, Israel's exchanges with Iran and its friends in Syria, and the Israeli squabble about its Supreme Court are far from finished. Commentators are quarreling about what's coming next.
Politicians elsewhere seek to make issues and themselves appear exciting. However, the locale and history of this place seem to put it close to the top of national excitement. Or maybe an index of national blather.
- Sturm und Drang
- Sound and fury signifying nothing
- Or serious debate about fateful issues
The details of several things we've been concerned with in recent years may have disappeared from our discussions, but they tap more general concerns waiting to come again, perhaps with a change in the players.
- The freeing of Gilad Shalit from Gaza in exchange for more than a thousand Palestinians convicted of serious crimes
- Condemnations and support of the IDF medic Elor Azaria, charged and convicted for the improper killing of a Palestinian terrorist
- The elevation of a Palestinian hero in the person of Ahed Tamimi, whose videod slapping of an Israeli soldier went viral
- Campaigns to obtain the bodies of Israeli soldiers being held in Gaza, and the release of Israeli civilians who entered Gaza
- Ehud Olmert's efforts to keep himself alive with a book touching upon an Israeli attack on a Syrian nuclear facility
- Ongoing police inquiries of first family members Bibi, Sara, Yair and assorted accomplices
- The latest effort of Palestinians to keep themselves on the map and in the media
- Who should have spoken at the Independence Day celebration
- Zigzagging on illegal African migrants, and it's connection to the primacy of the Supreme Court or the Knesset
Each of the events poses its quandary of judgment.
Should Shalit have been released at the expense of freeing more than a thousand of Palestinians, all of whom had committed serious crimes and some of whom killed again after being released? Involved in the discussion is a perception that Shalit was not a brave soldier who resisted his capture. Politicians assert that Israel will not pay such a high price again, but it may be impossible to stand against the kind of campaign organized by the Shalit family and the activists attracted to them.
Currently Israel is standing firm, but perhaps wobbling, with respect to the families of those demanding greater efforts to obtain the bodies of two soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza operation. Israeli courts and the IDF have been unwilling to withhold from their families Palestinian bodies killed in terror attacks, out of a concern that such a tit for tat would add to Palestinian incitement and violence.
There's less action directed at the return of several civilians who went into Gaza of their own volition. Some say it is because the lone Jew is an Ethiopian, and that the rest are Arabs. Others say that it is because they are mentally handicapped and wandered into Gaza on their own.
The cases of Elor Azaria and Ahed Tamimi are appropriately paired for the attention that each has produced among Israelis, Palestinians, and those enamored of the national campaigns associated with each.
Both young people have similar records of affiliating with extremists in each national camp. Both did little that was substantial. The Palestinian killed by Azaria was all but dead, and Tamimi's action was nothing but a teenager's slap. However, both aroused passions and became the darlings of media campaigns. Both also became the subjects of wrestling among personnel of the IDF judiciary along with publicity-seeking attorneys and activists. And both received modest prison sentences of a few months.
Overseas governments and media produced detailed reports about Israel's 2007 attack on a Syrian nuclear facility soon after it occurred. Israeli officials refused to comment, and military censors kept Israeli media from confirming Israel's role for more than a decade. The posture was a repeat of Israel's practice of keeping a low profile, not provoking via insult a response from our enemies, and keeping the world wondering about our capacity and intentions.
However, Israel radio surprised us in a 5 AM news broadcast, then followed by several hours of special programming detailing Israeli decision-making and operations against the nuclear facility being created by North Koreans for Syria. There followed several days of activity by the principals who had been involved, and supporters of each with competing claims of who contributed more for the sake of the nation. There was some nastiness about individuals operating in obsessive manner, and in ways to assure for themselves a good name and chances in subsequent political campaigns.
Most prominent in the contenders for political credit for what occurred a decade ago were Israel's two Ehuds--Olmert and Barak. And at least part of this renewed competition may reflect speculation that Barak has not given up hope of getting yet another call to national service, this time in the context of Benjamin Netanyahu's dimming reputation. Ehud Olmert stimulated the rehashing of an old issue with the publication of a book about himself written while in prison. And somewhere in the mix was Olmrt's effort to get himself cleaned of an attachment to his conviction that would keep him out of politics.
The Washington Post headlined its report as "A Battle of Egos."
The problems of the Netanyahus and their comrades are an ongoing drama, with frequent reports, laments about corruption in high places, and counter charges of corruption in the media and police.
Our American friends are no less affected by commotions.
Donald Trump is without doubt the world's most powerful magnet of Sturm Und Drum/Sound and Fury. Israelis and Americans who worry especially about one another have parsed the costs and benefits of various expressions and actions associated with him. John Bolton's appointment as National Security Adviser added to Trump's status among those who support a candid, strong, and pro-Israel presidency, while reinforcing those who see Trump as a danger to world peace.
A contentious democracy is the best kind. The components are openness to dispute, competition as to what are the important threats or opportunities and how to deal with them, as well as who are the most appropriate individuals to fill key positions.
It's seldom quiet, and a society's underlying interests and tensions are bound to provoke, infuriate, bore, or even amuse those with different attitudes toward politics in general or toward any particular dispute. Cynicism is one of the likely results, competing with the realization that political conflict is the most desirable way of dealing with competing interests.
There's also competition over one of the expressions appropriate. There are those who say it came from Winston Churchill, and those who say that it was Harold Macmillan, who said that jaw jaw is better than war war.
Now we're at the start of a week that includes the international date for Israel's Independence celebration, the day to celebrate the liberation of Jerusalem in 1967, the movement of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, Nakba Day (the Palestinians' celebration of their disaster), the onset of Ramadan, and whatever the Iranians may decide to do by way of retaliation..
Predictions are dire.
Excitement is sure.
It's a week to stay close to home, and maybe under the bed.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem