Has Prime Minister Netanyahu really insulted the President of the United States and the whole American establishment by canceling a scheduled meeting at the White House?
Can we believe the announced reason, that he did not want to be seen involving himself in US politics during a contentious presidential primary season?
Or was the whole business somebody's idea of seeding the air with disinformation, for one or another purpose?
When this was on our media, there was a tough day on the streets, and signs of an increased Israeli response.
There were several attacks on Tuesday, with an American tourist killed on the seaside promenade in Jaffa, and police injured alongside the Old City in Jerusalem. Palestinians died in their efforts. The dead American had served as a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan, and currently was a Vanderbilt University grad student.
It was also a day of generalized inconvenience, as Vice President Joe Biden came to discuss things, causing the police to close roads in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and between the two, according to the great man's schedule. A day earlier the Romanian President came for meetings, and most likely was escorted here and there with a limited police escort.
Speculation was that the VP's visit may have triggered Palestinians to provide a display of violence as his reception. If so, the notion counters the view that the attacks are the work of individuals operating alone. Their timing might get in the way of what we also hear of the White House's concern to make one more great effort to help the Palestinians prior to January 20. Barack Obama is the lamest of ducks. He may have trouble getting a nominee on the Supreme Court, which would be a matter of small routine compared to peace between Israel and Palestine.
The death of an American, a military veteran and graduate student, is not likely to increase the incentives for American politicians to do something nice for the Palestinians.
There is a gap between what Israel wants and what the Americans want to give by way of increased aid to help with the threats associated with Iran. That may have something to do with the Prime Minister's decision not to visit the US in the near future.
Israelis responses to continued Palestinian violence include a plan to complete sections of the walls separating Israelis from Palestinians in areas of Jerusalem and Hebron, to increase the penalties of Israelis who employ Palestinians without proper permits, shut down Palestinian media that incite violence, reconsider permits granted to Palestinians allowing entry to Israel for work, and target the families of those attacking Jews. Homes are being destroyed, and relatives seized for questioning. Several government ministers are proposing to exile terrorists families to Gaza or Syria.
For those who think that only the directly involved should be punished, they might reconsider how moderate are Israel's responses. The purpose is to provide individual Palestinians in a family-oriented culture with disincentives to violence. A prominent alternative, so far not on the agenda, is a serious operation by the IDF against Palestinian facilities and population centers, with "collateral casualties" likely to reach the thousands.
Coping remains the Israeli style. This involves relations with the US and alternative points of international assistance and leverage, as well as Israel's management of what comes from Palestinians, and the various pressures coming from domestic sources left and right, religious, secular, and the various competing sectors within Israel's religious communities. Read the latter to be competition between Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox and various non-Orthodox Judaisms, each with their sources of support from Jewish communities firstname.lastname@example.org
The Palestinians and/or Israeli Arabs are alongside and among us. This is nothing new for Jews. The Hebrew Bible, European, Middle Eastern, and American history, and modern Israel's own experience is various levels of accommodation with respect to others, but also tension, and times of violence. In three thousand years the Jews have found no solution possible in complete separation, so we can doubt that it will happen in our generation.
In ancient times and again now, the homeland of the Jews was on the fringe of great empires. The location on the bridge between Africa and Asia has something to do with great power interests. Added to that is the Hebrew Bible, and its contributions to Christian and Muslim spirituality and aspirations. Once it was the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans--all of them great powers at once time or another--with whom the Jews were involved. More recently it's been the Americans. The homeland of the Jews has historically sought as much independence as possible from whatever was the great power. The Book of Jeremiah provides a classic story of having to choose loyalty to contending empires of Babylon on one side and Egypt on the other. The choice was difficult, and the result was disaster. Now the story is one of heavy reliance on the United States, with the help of a significant population of American Jews, with Israel doing what it can to determine its own destiny.
Among the latest items circulating here is a bit of American sarcasm, going below the belt against the man who might lead the country that has become so important to Israelis and others. Click here to see.
It's never been easy for Jews to cope with one another. The Book of Ezra tells part of this story, the Books of Maccabes and the historian Josephus cover other periods. All told the ancients were worried about Jews coupling with others, and Jews going to war with one another over the affinity of some to the culture of others, Greeks at one time and Romans at another.
Now almost all of us--with the possible exception of the ultra-Orthodox--are as Greek and Roman in our culture as we are Judaic. Yet there are varying degrees of conflict among ultra-Orthodox congregations and between the ultra-Orthodox aggregate against Orthodox and secular Israels, with all of them having some degree of problems with religious Jews who adhere to non-Orthodox kinds of Judaism.
Jews have long been divided between those with a strong conception of social responsibility, and those with an intense concern for their freedom as individuals to accomplish what they want. See this as socialism against free enterprise, with the Jews of Europe, the US, and Israel arguing each side of the classic divide. As Israel has grown wealthier along with the skills of those involved in high tech and its application to the military, civilian industry, and medicine, what had once been a more completely socialist society has moved in the direction of greater reliance on individual initiative and limited regulation. And along the way, Israel's measure of income inequality has become the second most unequal of the wealthier western democracies, second only to the United States. A prominent source of Israel's income inequality are ultra-Orthodox Jews who would rather study than work. The issue adds to tensions between many Israelis against the ultra-Orthodox, with large families, and nearly uniform voting for ultra-Orthodox political parties which do what they can to provide resources to their constituents, as well as to impose their views of Judaism on the rest of us.
There's nothing simple in any of this, which is why coping with partial and imperfect actions takes precedence over any aspiration to finding solutions.
And remember that "final solution" in our list of slogans gone bad.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)Department of Political ScienceHebrew University of Jerusalem