Thursday, August 14, 2003


July 2003

Dear friends and colleagues,

Uncharacteristically, this column will not be about Israel. I spent most of July in South Africa, where I took part in the International Political Science Assoc. (IPSA) conference, delivered ten lectures at branches of Vista University and at Jewish communities across the country, participated on a radio show, toured and met people. I gave talks on the scope of tolerance, media ethics, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Gaza First Plan. The latter received some attention from the electronic and the print media.

In every country that one visits there are some things that strike out. In South Africa these things are:
• Animals. This is a good reason to travel to SA. Beautiful nature resorts. Beautiful animals in the wild. I returned with four rolls of film, mainly of animals one usually does not see in the Middle East, Europe and North America. The highlight: playing with 3 months old lion cubs. You cannot play with them when they 6 months old.
• Natural resources. Diamonds. Gold. Sugar. These are the more visible and talked about. SA is blessed with lots of good things. Some people of the audiences could not believe that Israel is not blessed with natural treasures (well, we DO have the Dead Sea minerals that are said to be very good for your skin). When I said we only have dirt they were utterly astonished: So much fighting and blood over this small piece of land for centuries, and all this mess for face cream?
• Fences. I have never seen so many fences in my life: of concrete, wood, barbed wire, stranded wire, iron wire, concertina wire. Long. Depressing. Some of them electrified, especially when white people are behind them. Upon my questions, my hosts reassured that they are incapable of killing people. Just to shock them. South Africa calls itself the Rainbow Nation; speaks of the unity of the 43 millions who live inside its long borders (many people of neighboring countries cross the borders every day to enjoy the relative affluence), of standing together – different, pluralistic yet together, but nowhere have I seen so many fences. Some designed to protect; others designed to hide.
• In Israel we chose to hire as many security guards as we can to protect society from terrorists. In SA there are no terrorists but the country suffers from a major internal security problem: crime. People are mugged; hijacked from their cars; houses are robbed; rape and murder are commonplace. From the moment I landed in SA I did not cease to hear about crime. People are poor. Desperate. Not enough jobs. Forty percent unemployment, possibly more. Crime is sort of a way out.
Three Israelis at the conference I attended were mugged on the day of arrival at knife point while strolling a main city of Durban during the night. They should have known better. A few more conference participants were mugged. Yet I hardly saw security people on the streets. As if there is a high decision to leave the streets to the criminals. One cannot avoid speculating that there is a hidden agenda.
I should note that the crime is aimed at anyone and everyone. It is not only black v. white. Often it is black v. black. At the same time, white people are still the more affluent in society and therefore suffer a great deal of the share. White people are hardly involved in such forms of illegality. You can find them in the white collar crime.
The only other place I've been where people speak frequently about crime is Mexico City but there the security is far more noticeable than in SA.
In newspapers, those "usual" kinds of crime (mugging, hijacking, rape and individual murder) are hardly mentioned. People told me that there is an order from above not to report of such cases because too much talk about crime undermines the SA spirit. No statistics is published. The media was ordered to report about positive things that take place in SA, not about negative issues. Such "negative" coverage also undermines the government of SA and this, of course, is not good. "Unusual" crime, on the other hand, is reported. For instance, a person kills his wife and children, possibly thereafter also himself. This will be reported. Also in Israel. I assume also in other parts of the world.
• Shanty towns called in SA "townships". Appalling. I've seen this phenomenon previously only in India. Kilometers upon kilometers of rough poverty. Millions of people living in the gutters, in accommodation made of anything that comes to hand: metal sheet, steel plate, wood, plastic. Many of those "houses" have no electricity or running water. No toilets. No basic standards of living. To warm themselves people light fires, inhaling the smoke and put their lives in jeopardy. Accidents have happened when the fire had spread rapidly, making the township a disaster area. It is hard to see any solution coming. Lot of resources need to be invested to tackle the problem. Building of decent neighborhoods is conducted on a slow pace. As long as those shanty towns exist, SA will continue to struggle with poverty and crime.
The coloured are living in better houses. Small and decent. Nothing one could envy but with basic standards of living.
The elite, still predominantly white, live in affluent neighborhoods. Things do change. Slowly.
• AIDS. The butcher of Africa, SA included. Kills hundred thousands of people, mainly black. Mainly women. 4 women to 1 man is the ratio. The government, loyal to its policy not to speak of difficult issues, does its best to ignore the issue, as if it would evaporate due to lack of concern. It won't. AIDS is eating the citizenry of SA with a huge spoon. Were Mbeki a white man I would accuse him of racism. At the conference scholars say that resources are available to fight against the disease but they are not made available to the public. This is staggering. Maybe things would have been different if the ratio was 4 to 1 against men.
• Beautiful people. Inside out. Kind. Hospitable. Warm. Nice. I am carrying very positive memories with me. I wish to thank the people who made my SA trip possible and who hosted me on the way: Gregg in Durban; Arnold, Nicolette and their lovely family, as well as Rachel and Yehoshua in Cape Town/Stellenbosch; Narnia, Miemie, Nadia and Vanessa in Port Elizabeth; Rhinda, Ronny, Derrick and Pierre in Bloemfontein; Diane, Koos, Lawrence and Danny in Pretoria and Johannesburg. I thank them all for their kind hospitality, care and concern.

Still, I cannot leave you without a word on Israel. Well, things are relatively quiet. Life in Israel is more peaceful during this cease fire. Hope that it would last. Forever.

The government continues with the erection of the fence, implicitly aiming to establish the new borders. During the process Israel takes into its side of the fence kilometers upon kilometers of land that was supposed to be within the confines of the new Palestinian state. Another recipe for future problems and costs, in blood and money.

Abu Mazen received a warm hug in Washington. Bush embraced the "new kid in town", listen carefully to his grievances regarding the road blocks, release of prisoners, illegal settlements, and "The Wall" (the Palestinians insist on calling the fence a wall) that isolates Palestinian towns and villages and swallows land in favour of the settlements. Sharon is on its way to Washington to voice his side.

With my best wishes, as ever,


My last communications are available on
Earlier posts at my home page:

NEWS: New Center for Democratic Studies, and My Sabbatical

August 2003

Dear friends and colleagues,

While in South Africa, the University of Haifa has approved the establishment of the Center for Democratic Studies and appointed me the head and director. This is the first center of its kind in Israel.

The aim of The Haifa Center for Democratic Studies is to promote awareness and understanding of civic culture in democracy. Recognizing the growing need to secure the foundations of democracy and to facilitate conditions for pluralism, the Center would establish a national and international forum for deliberation and discussion. The main focus will be on the role of ethics and justice in all spheres of public life: politics; economy; culture; academy; business; law; media and medicine.

The Center’s purposes include the strengthening of democratic values such as active participation in public life, professional ethics, accountability for one’s actions, and civic equality. The Center will also focus attention upon abuse of power and violation of basic human rights. It will encourage open debate on the vital importance of freedom of expression, in its broad sense, in democratic life. The term ‘free expression’ includes freedom of assembly, freedom to demonstrate and to picket, free media, artistic freedom, and academic freedom. At the same time the Center will aim to increase public awareness of the need to set boundaries to liberty and tolerance. We are living in an era of political violence and extremism, and we need to find ways to overcome the antidemocratic forces that seem to go from strength to strength. We must find ample ways for tackling antidemocratic phenomena that aim at the destruction of democracy. On this front the Center sees an urgent need for education on all levels: primary schools, high schools and universities.

To achieve these ends, the Center will do the following:

• Establish an M.A. program for ethics and democratic studies at the University of Haifa. This would be an interdisciplinary program in which excellent students could select courses in political science, philosophy, sociology, law, communication, history and education.
• Conduct biennial international conferences, each dedicated to a different topic, such as equality; media ethics; multiculturalism; medical ethics; business ethics; free speech; civic participation; professional ethics; feminism, etc.
• Publish, and help to publish, books in Hebrew and English whose subject matters lie within the frame of reference described supra.
• Establish The Journal of Ethics, Law and Society (full details in Appendix 1).
• Hold annual competitions on themes that deal with ethics and democratic studies in all three levels of education, primary schools, high schools and universities.
• Co-operate with the Ministry of Education to increase awareness and improve education of democratic studies at all levels of school education.
• Co-operate with the existing foundations that are working at schools.
• Found Student Exchange Programs between the University of Haifa and selected universities all over the world. We would like to have students from universities, such as Harvard, Yale, Chicago and Berkeley in Haifa and would like to give our finest students the opportunity to study in those institutions. In addition, excellent students of Latin-American universities who are interested in Middle East studies could visit the Center for a limited period of time (one or two semesters), while Israeli students interested in Latin-American studies might visit corresponding universities. The students will be selected on a competitive basis.
• Cooperate with similar centers that exist in other universities. In the first instance attempts will be made to establish channels of communication and cooperation with The Program on Ethics and the Professions, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; The Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University; The Hastings Center, New York; The Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, University of Chicago; The Center for Human Values, Princeton University; The Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, University of Manchester, England; The Center for Human Bioethics, Monash University, Australia; The McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, Canada; The Centre for Applied Ethics, The University of British Columbia, and The Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

This, of course, is not an exhaustive list. I'd be happy to establish cooperation with further institutions, examining in each instance to what extent we could cooperate and develop relationships. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have something in mind.

• Establish an extensive website describing the activities of the centre, with links to the sites of the above centers.

As is the case with all academic centers in Israel, my Center needs to be funded by external money. The University of Haifa grants a small sum of money to start, and I am required to recruit the necessary funds for the upcoming activities. Hence I now embark on a fund raising campaign.

If you can be of any help in this process, please let me know. I need one person, one family, who might be interested to give name and money so I – together with some twenty colleagues at my university who agreed to be part of the Center – start devote our energies to advance and promote liberty, tolerance, pluralism, diversity, multiculturalism and peace in Israel.

On 24 August we are scheduled to leave for Baltimore on sabbatical. I received a fellowship at the Hopkins Center for Policy Studies and Visiting Professorship at the Department of Communication. My address in the US will be:


Prof. Raphael Cohen-Almagor
Institute for Policy Studies
Johns Hopkins University
3400 N. Charles Street
5th Floor Wyman Park Building
Baltimore, MD 21218
Phone: (410) 516-4906
Fax: (410) 516-8233

I hope to retain my e-mail address.


The Carlyle Apartments
500 W. University Pkwy
Baltimore, MD, 21218
Phone: (410)889-4500
Fax: (410)467-3073.

I look forward to see as many of my North American friends as I can during the coming year. Some of you have already invited me to deliver lectures. Others no doubt will pass my way.

With my best wishes, as ever,


My last communications are available on
Earlier posts at my home page: