Monday, August 27, 2012

Politics – August 2012

Support is sought to facilitate the work of the Middle East Study Group. Information at

I also welcome promoting the two-state solution. See

In the state of Israel, we are not prepared to tolerate racism; neither are we prepared to tolerate the combination of racism and violence.

~PM Benjamin Netanyahu (August 21, 2012)

History is the outcome of circumstances presented to leaders who take chances, initiate, and make the most of them.

One scratch on the wall is just a scratch. Many scratches, however, may change the shape of the wall. Often many incremental steps rather than a single blow, bring about historical changes.

Occupation qua occupation is evil.

We should call a spade a spade. Otherwise Israel would become “Israel”.

~Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Reflections on June Newsletter
Social Justice
How Does Israel Compare to OECD Countries?
Omar Suleiman
Middle East Civility
Book Review-Politics and Government in Israel. The Maturation of a Modern State
New Books
Monthly Poem
Gem of the Month – London Olympics 2012
London Theatre
Tel Aviv Dancing
Light Side


Reflections on June Newsletter

I thank those who offer to help promoting the two-state solution. I would like to organize a conference on the subject during the second term of 2013. All help in this regard is most appreciated.

Defence Minister Barak, who tends to agree with every word of his prime minister (his political future is dependent on Mr. Netanyahu) made an extraordinary independent statement, saying that the inaction on the Palestinian issue would lead Israel to disaster, and called to resume talks and push for a two-state solution. After all, verbally the Israeli government is still committed to the idea.

Exchange with Dr. John Lantos, Kansas City:


As always, I enjoy getting your newsletters and reading your analyses.  In this one, I was particularly struck by this paragraph:

While Haredim account at present for less than 10 percent of Israel’s 7.8 million citizens, and Arabs account for 20 percent, their high birthrates mean that about 46 percent of today’s kindergartners come from these two groups. Israel surely and slowly returns to the biblical days of religious Israel, with the Chivy, Yevusy and Pelishti residing in its territory and around it. Hurray. And the Third Temple? Will it be destroyed by external enemies or internal rivalries?

I was visiting Soroka/BGU last year and learned that 60% of the births there now are to Bedouins.. Many don’t work, their medical care is free, and they get government subsidies for each additional child.   They outgrow their villages and illegal settlements (a different sort of illegal settlement than those of Jewish settlers on the West Bank.)   

I take your point, above, to be that a smaller and smaller percentage of the Israeli population will be both supporting and defending a larger and larger percentage that neither pays taxes nor serves in the military.  And I detected a note of despair about the future of Israel that I hadn’t heard in previous newsletters – a feeling that there is a real possibility that Israel will be destroyed not from without but from within.  

Speculate, then, about where Israel will be in 10 years, given current trends.  What compromises are possible?  What will happen if compromises are not made?

I wonder what would happen if the Palestinian Authority suddenly decided that they would come out in favour of Israel totally annexing the West Bank, so that it would become a part of Israel.  What then would be the percentages of Arabs and Jews in the population or in the birth rate?  Wouldn’t that be an effective way of destroying the Jewish state from within?  And wouldn’t it immediately shift world opinion: “We are laying down our arms.  We want to cooperate with Israel.  We recognize the government of Israel as our government.  All we ask is the same rights as other Israeli citizens have – medical care, welfare, education, and the right to vote.” 



Hi John

Many thanks for your comments.

No, no despair, but acknowledging social reality. You know, peace is very hard to achieve but even harder is to calm the tensions within Israeli society. There is more chance for peace than for separation of state and religion.

I do not like to speculate. We can make plans and there will always be people to ruin them. Prophecy in this age is left for people with whom I don’t wish to be associated.

I do not think the PA will opt for annexation. At present, this is not a viable possibility and it is hard for me to see a reason for them to change their mind.

With my best wishes, yours


I agree that the PA will never agree to annexation.  It is more a theoretical question than a practical one.

The question is whether it would make sense, strategically (and ahistorically, since their view of their history and destiny is what would keep them from doing so) for them to do so.   What would the implications be if they did?   It would give the demographic trends that you cite a big nudge in the direction that they are going anyway. It would also require an answer from Israelis who imagine a one-state solution.  In the thought experiment, "What if the PA accepted annexation?" the questions would arise, "What, then, would be the status of the residents of the territories?  Would they become Israeli citizens?  Would they have some other status?"


Exchange with Abe Silverman, Edmonton:

I to would like to see a 2 State solution, one Jewish and 1 Arab (Palestinian) living side by side in peace and mutual respect and security and like you I would like to see it happen right now as would most Jews in Israel and the diaspora. But I don't know how to make that happen. Do you? I must say that I am deeply offended but not surprised by Sami Michael who I would guess has some very strong ultra left views. Rifles and tanks may be useless against a child holding a stone but not against those who shoot rockets and missiles and send suicide bombers to kill the innocent. And yes Israel like every other Western Nation has it's racists and bigots but how dare he suggest that racism is public policy. I would argue though far from perfect Israel has one of the most tolerant societies.

If  Overy had chosen to be honest instead of evasive his answer would have been that the Allies did not give a damn about the plight of European Jews.

Abe Silverman
Edmonton Alberta Canada.

Dear Abe

Many thanks for your comments. I agree with you that it is unrealistic at this juncture to expect the attainment of peace in the short term, not least since over the past six years the PA had been largely overpowered by Hamas, which won a landslide victory in the first Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006, and the following year took control of the Gaza Strip by force of arms. Hamas is openly and unabashedly committed to Israel’s destruction and there is little hope for peace so long as religio-violent Hamas plays a crucial role in the Palestinian society and politics.
This, however, should not prevent Israel from working to lay the groundwork for the resumption of the peace process and its successful culmination in a peace treaty. In the short term it should endeavour to rebuild trust with the PA through such measures as settlement construction freeze, improvement of economic conditions in the West Bank, and reduction of checkpoints so as to ease the lives of ordinary Palestinians. At the same time, it should work out the general principles of the final status agreement and ways for its implementation.

With my very best wishes

Exchange with Dr. Yoav Tenembaum, Tel Aviv:

You won't be surprised if I wrote to you that I don't fully agree with everything you write about Israel.

If I may say so, I think that, on occasion, your critical comments about Israeli "occupation" are devoid of historical context and miss some notable nuances, such as the fact that, following the Oslo Accords, 97% of the Palestinian Arab population lived under the rule of the Palestinian Authority. The situation that existed then, I think, could not be referred to as 'occupation' in the traditional sense of the word, as you describe it. To be sure, following the spate of terror attacks on Israeli civilians during the so-called Second Intifada, Israeli forces re-entered Palestinian civilian areas, a move that helped mitigate the unbearable consequences of those terror attacks.

Today, the situation in the West Bank is one that can't be described as 'occupation' either in the traditional sense of the word. The Palestinian Authority rules over most Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank. True, there are some limitations on the freedom of movement, as well as other kind of limitations. I am not happy about that. However, one should be aware of the fact that those limitations are due primarily to security reasons much more so than what you describe as superior feelings on the part of Israelis towards Palestinians. With all due respect, Rafi, I think that you tend to simplify what is both a complex and sad situation for both peoples.

The situation in Gaza is different. There is no Israeli presence there. The Hamas leadership in Gaza intensified its attacks against Israel following the withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlers. To continue referring to the status of Gaza as a traditional 'occupation' is, in my view, incorrect. The measures taken with regard to the naval blockade of Gaza by Israel, and since then relaxed somewhat are due to security reasons, as you well know. Few Israelis wish to have anything to do with Gaza. Security is their primary concern.

Israel is in a difficult situation. After all, Ehud Olmert, as PM, presented a peace plan to Abbu Mazen that would have given the Palestinian Arabs the equivalent of 100% of the territories (taken into account the swap between Israeli and Palestinian territories), in addition to allowing a limited number of Palestinian refugees to come to Israel, and Olmert, according to his own testimony, is still waiting for an answer (almost four years).

One can't put the entire onus on Israel simply because there is an 'occupation' which frees the other side of any political, diplomatic and moral responsibilities. This is not only unfair, but actually incorrect.

On a different matter, I enjoyed reading your comments about the French movie The Intouchables. I fully agree with you. It's a wonderful movie, very well acted, with a subtle and beautiful message throughout. I loved it.

It was very interesting to read your remarks on your paper about the notion of Just War as applied to Israel's wars. I think the topic you chose, and the way you went about arguing about it, is thought-provoking. I am not sure I understand why you think that the war of 1956 does fall within the concept of a Just War, whereas the First, Second Lebanon Wars or the Cast Lead Operation does not?

Incidentally, do you think that the concept of Just War is necessarily parallel to the legal concept of self-defence? You don't mention this. It's just a query that comes to mind.
With regard to Jorge Luis Borges, I have the advantage, as you know, of being able to read his writings in Spanish. He was once asked whether he wrote in English. His English was as good as his Spanish. He replied: "No! I respect the English language too much to do so…"

Thank you for a thought-provoking and interesting Newsletter.

All the best to you and to your family!

Hi Yoav

Thank you for your letter. I relate to our disagreements.

I am puzzled by your view on the Israeli occupation. Many Israelis live in self-denial, believing that we are decent people, the little David in the picture. I thought you as a scientist would know better, recognizing facts when you see them and not delude yourself. The Palestinian population in the entire West Bank, Areas A, B and C, is deprived of basic civic and human rights. They are subject to Israeli military directives and to continued discrimination in the allocation of water and energy; their freedom of movement is severely restricted; their taxes are paid to Israel that is required to return to the Palestinian Authority (PA); they are required to receive permits to exit and enter the West Bank; their security is in the hands of Israel. In essence, Israel continues to control Palestinian life in all vital aspects: civic, economy and security. Israel behaves like a control-freak motivated primarily by fear as well as feelings of superiority. Israel should let go.

As for Olmert, would you trust him if he were to wage two wars on your brethren? Olmert lost all his credibility by launching two unjust wars. The Israel-Hezbollah War was both unjust in the sense of jus ad bellum and jus in bello; The Israel-Hamas War was just in the first sense but not in jus in bello. Words are rather unpersuasive when they are accompanied by contrary deeds.

If interested, I am happy to send you (and others) my paper on just and unjust wars for comments. I trust I could benefit from them.

Best wishes


Florence wrote from Haifa:

Dear Rafi,

I join you in my love for the sea and summer and ask myself how you survive THE Winters.

Rembrandt is also one of my favorites. I would like to draw your attention to my two main favorites:
-Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), the French Nabi, the main one, and
-Lucian Freud, who passed away recently, less than two years ago, the son of S. Freud's first son, a beloved grandchild.

I should also mention Avigdor Arikha, also passed away recently, who kept a studio in Jerusalem and one in Paris, born the same place I was born.

This last news-journal of yours seems more enlightening than ever,

Thanks, Enjoy the second half or more of the summer,


Social Justice

I received quite a few comments on social justice. Some sent me further material. The devil is in the details. I was asked to elaborate and to provide some more data:

The underlying reasons for the social justice movement are: high cost of living; inability of many people, especially young families, to buy an apartment; stagnant salaries during the last decade with less buying power; rising inequality in salaries, the result of increased tax breaks granted to the more affluent earners; broadening phenomenon of what I call “slavery terms of employment”, i.e, employment with no social welfare benefits, on temporary contracts for limited duration of time; increased private expenditure on social services, such as education and health.

In 2010, there were 433,300 poor families; all together 1,773,400 people including 837,300 children. The term “poor” referred to someone who earned 1,930 New Shekels (roughly $500).

Unemployment in 2010 was 6.7%.

Rise of poverty in the Jerusalem, Haifa and the northern districts. Especially in Jerusalem, where there are many Arab and Jewish ultra-orthodox families, the poverty figures are staggering: 36.6% of the families and 57.7% of children. The chances of those two sectors to be poor are threefold compared to other sectors of the population. The majority of the middle class are non-orthodox Jews.

Source: Miri Andevald, Netanela Berkley, Daniel Gotlieb and Alexander Froman, Annual Report 2010, National Insurance Institute (Jerusalem, November 2011),

How Does Israel Compare to OECD Countries?

The Israeli GDP is about 80% of the OECD average. In 2009, the average buying power of each Israeli citizen was $27,764 compared to $34,335 of OECD citizens (81%). Israel's welfare expenditures are relatively low compared to most OECD countries. All western European countries spend about 20.6% of their budget on welfare. Israel spends 15.6% (like Ireland, Iceland, Turkey, Mexico and Korea).

Israel's population is young compared to the other OECD countries, and its expenditure on health and pensions is therefore relatively low. In addition, the percentage of the working-age population who are employed is lower in Israel (60% in 2008) than the OECD average (66.5% in 2008). On the other hand, the rate of foreign workers in Israel (including workers from the Palestinian Authority) is high in an international comparison: 8.4% in 2007. In the area of total welfare expenditure, the international comparison points to Israel's relatively low position.

The level of generosity of Israel's social protection system is relatively low. Israel is characterized by a relatively low level of allowance for the first child. Child allowance consists 2% of the Israeli average salary, compared to average 4% in the OECD countries. Furthermore, the work period entitling one to unemployment benefits is relatively long in Israel, while the maximum period of payment of such benefits is short. As to the old-age pension, its level in Israel is lower than that of public pensions in most other OECD countries.

The collection of insurance contributions as a percentage of the GDP is lower in Israel than in most other OECD countries. In Israel, the share of the worker in payment of insurance contributions is higher than the share of the employer – a phenomenon opposite to that observed in the other OECD countries. Employees in Israel pay 12% for their insurance compared to 11.5% in the OECD countries. More significantly, the insurance contributions paid by employers for their workers are substantially lower in Israel than in the other OECD countries. In Israel, the employer pays 5.4% while in the OECD the employer pays 20.4%!

Source: Jacques Bendelac, The Social Protection System in an International Perspective: Israel and the OECD Countries (Jerusalem: National Insurance Institute, October 2010).


The Great Recession of 2007-2010, originating mainly from ethical failures, makes it imperative to examine the challenges of business and ethics in the business world. The leaders of business, politics, the media and world economy have come to the conclusion that ethics is a precondition for a sustainable and profitable economy, but unfortunately it is not implemented. I suggest adopting the 36 principles of my book "Business Ethics for a Sustainable Society", which combine business and ethics, in order to overcome the future challenges and prevent a Doomsday Depression by 2020.

  1. Companies should see profitability as a viability precondition and not as their only reason for existence, as corporations also employ people, sell products, and contribute to society.
  2. The mantra of maximization of profits should be discarded, as it necessarily causes maximization of risks and wrongdoing of stakeholders: employees, customers, community and the ecology.
  3. Financial moderation should prevail, with a balanced leverage (not 30:1 as in Lehman Brothers), sufficient equity, low indebtedness, a positive cash flow, integrity of the financial management, even if it is at the expense of maximizing profitability, growth and valuation.
  4. Financial reports should be accurate and transparent and instead of spending tens of millions in order to circumvent the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, companies should spend millions to be ethical.
  5. Lawyers who assist companies to evade taxes "lawfully" would be unemployed, as all companies would pay the full taxes, after being convinced that it is the only way to maintain law and order, eradicate crime and to fund defense, education, health and infrastructure equitably.
  6. All pension funds should cease to invest in the stock exchange, no longer risking pensions, and minority shareholders should invest only in ethical funds and ethical companies.
  7. Independent directors should be really independent and should ensure the stakeholders' rights.
  8. An Institute of Ethics should be established, giving ethical ratings to companies, controlling shareholders and executives, and the management should have an impeccable ethical record, preventing the collapse of AAA ethical companies due to unethical conduct.
  9. The internet would become the ultimate ethical vehicle, ensuring full transparency, preventing the use of insider information and enabling open communication between all stakeholders.
  10. Cooperation, equilibrium and harmony would replace the principles of cut-throat competition and street fighting, having the killer instinct and adopting war tactics.
  11. Companies should not compete in adopting unbridled marketing campaigns, deceptive advertising, deceiving customers, but should compete on who gives better service and products at fair prices, without putting "stumbling blocks" before the blind subprime customers.
  12. Our examples of model businessmen would be Warren Buffett, Jerry Greenfield and Paul Hawken, and not Ken Lay and the executives of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and AIG.
  13. Society would not judge people by the size of their wallets but by the greatness of their minds.
  14. The ideal manager should lead his company in an authoritative, democratic and humane approach, and not be inconsiderate, brutal and lacking in sensitivity.
  15. We should prevent sexual harassment, race, gender, age and other discrimination, nepotism, and all workers should be treated equitably and recruited with ethical screening.
  16. The ratio between the highest and lowest salaries in a company should not exceed 30:1.
  17. The environment in our cities would be as good as in Copenhagen and not as bad as in Naples, and petrochemical companies would invest in preventive measures as in the Netherlands.
  18. Our country would be rated among the ten most ethical countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, our model would be Finland and not Nigeria, and those who enforce the ethical laws would not cross the lines to work for those who infringe upon them.
  19. Companies and tycoons should not perceive corporate social responsibility as the donations of one percent of profits being the essence of ethics, but should earn the other 99% ethically.
  20. Government would not be neo-liberal or social democratic but neo-social, adopting the "third way" of Joseph Stieglitz, with a balanced equilibrium between free market and regulation.
  21. Perception of success would not be living on a property of $125 million but on a modest property, like Warren Buffett, known for his personal frugality despite his immense wealth. 
  22. The model of a politician would be Mahatma Gandhi, practitioner of non-violence, truth, integrity, austerity, simplicity and peace, as opposed to many corrupt politicians of today.
  23. The excessive ties between government and business would be loosened, politicians would not be responsible to tycoons and their lobbies but to the people and would be funded by them. Civil servants should not be employed by the tycoons after quitting their jobs, putting their motives in doubt.
  24. Milton Friedman's vision would be achieved - that companies should not invest in social responsibility and the policy of the neo-liberals would be implemented with minimum regulation, because if companies are ethical, there will be no need for charity or regulation.
  25. Society would not worship bankrupt businessmen who outsmarted their creditors, tax evaders who conned the government, and controlling shareholders who wronged minority shareholders, but nerds who pay their taxes, behave ethically and repay their debts.
  26. White-collar criminals should be sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, without plea bargains, indirect or direct bribes, and judges should not be lenient toward bankers, tycoons and corrupt politicians, who are usually represented by the best lawyers.
  27. Society would ostracize those who withhold payments to suppliers and employees, those who employ people without providing them with social benefits, and those who prevent unionizing aimed at improving working conditions.
  28. Society should encourage and reward whistleblowers who warn against corruption, wrongdoing to stakeholders and ethical criminals.
  29. Our country would have minimal social gaps and would rank close to Sweden, with 50% of its population in the middle class and not 50% of the wealth owned by the richest 1%, since democracy is not voting every few years, but having equity, welfare and equal opportunities.
  30. We should take our fate in our own hands, acting lawfully and ethically but decisively, investing only in ethical companies, working only in ethical companies, buying only from ethical companies and welcoming only ethical and sustainable companies into our communities.
  31. We should not aspire to be creative capitalists or creative accountants, but to be creative in our R&D in high tech, green energy and low tech, with holistic ethical strategic planning.
  32. Quality and excellence should be the cornerstones of a company's activities, by adhering to specifications and standards, without jeopardizing quality and endangering people's lives.
  33. Ethical standards, codes and assimilation would not be eyewash but the basics of a company.
  34. Tenders would not be bent, positions would not be promised to the boys, and lawsuits would not drag on, in an economy with minimal red tape and an ethical environment and infrastructure.
  35. We should return to basics: obeying the Golden Rule by not doing to others what we do not want to be done to us, acting in equity, moderation and equilibrium; the Categorical Imperative with its moral obligations should prevail, concluding in an All My Sons Credo.
  36. The significant progress that has happened in the last decades in consumerism, quality, health, education and democracy would also be expanded to ethics, social responsibility, corporate governance and sustainability towards the year 2020, if we wish to preserve life.


Some of my colleagues claim that Israel exaggerates Iran’s hostility to Israel, and that Iranian leaders do not wish to wipe Israel off the map. On August 17, 2012, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said: "The Zionist regime and the Zionists are a cancerous tumour. Even if one cell of them is left in one inch of (Palestinian) land, in the future this story (of Israel's existence) will repeat," he said in a speech in Tehran marking Iran's Quds Day that was broadcast on state television.
"The nations of the region will soon finish off the usurper Zionists in the Palestinian land.... A new Middle East will definitely be formed. With the grace of God and help of the nations, in the new Middle East there will be no trace of the Americans and Zionists," he said.
We listen carefully to our enemies, and believe their intentions. We also think that our enemies believe in deeds, not only in words.


Israel attacks in Iran to delay the Iranian nuclear ambitions; Iran attacks all over the place. On July 18, 2012, the targets were Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. Seven people, including six Israelis, were killed and over 30 wounded in a terror attack on a bus carrying Israelis at Sarafovo Airport in Burgas. The blast soon after a charter plane from Ben-Gurion Airport, landed at 16:45. In recent years, Burgas become a favorite tourist attraction for Israelis, especially young Israelis before and after their army service, as Israel’s relationship with Turkey cooled off due to the increased political rifts between the two countries. 

Bulgaria is a soft spot on the terror map. It has lax security arrangements as its experience with terrorism, luckily for them, is extremely limited. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and asked to convey his condolences over the deaths of the Israeli tourists. He said that the attack was not only against Israelis but against Bulgaria as well. The two agreed that Israel and Bulgaria would cooperate closely in investigating the attack.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Iran and Hezbollah are conducting a campaign of terrorism against Israeli targets around the world.

Omar Suleiman

On July 19, 2012, Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's former intelligence chief and close aid, died in U.S. Suleiman was an enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood and helped to bring Gilad Shalit home.

Suleiman liked to act behind the scene. He stepped briefly into the limelight when he was made vice president days before Mubarak was ousted last year.

On April 2012, Egypt's central elections committee ruled that Suleiman would not be able to run in the presidential elections. Suleiman received several threats on his life during the past year. Many did not like his close ties with the former regime as well as his ties with Israel.
Middle East Civility

A story I was told by an Englishman who has travelled in the Middle East. I paraphrase his words:

I was in Israel and in Israel's neighbours. I had a wonderful visit in one country (A) where I met wonderful, hospitable people. And as soon as I crossed the Mandlebaum Bridge to country B, two young children jumped to greet me, wanting to take my luggage for 5 pounds. This was in strike contrast to the civility of the people of the country I just left; moving from a culture of dignity and respect to a society driven by profit, pushy, where all is kosher to make a dime.

To be clear, country A was Jordan. Country B was Israel.

Book Review-Politics and Government in Israel. The Maturation of a Modern State
by Gregory Mahler
Rowman and Littlefield, 2011
402pp., ISBN 9780742568280, $44
Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2 (July 2012), pp. 286-288.

In Politics and Government in Israel, Mahler aims to acquaint readers with the history of Israel and its political processes. Mahler endeavors to present a balanced picture, attempting to provide the historical background and social context of Israel, to explain the country's political structures, and to clarify the external pressures that influence the political system. Mahler is cognizant of the book’s limitations. The book does not rely on Hebrew sources, is quite brief on major issues (for instance, Israeli economy) and is not immune to factual errors. Mahler explains that his purpose was not to develop comprehensive expertise but to raise 'Consciousness and familiarity' (p. 10).
Chapter 1 deals with the history and the creation of Israel. It describes the emergence of Zionism from 1830 and explains the reasons for immigration to Palestine. In turn, chapter 2 is about Zionism and religion. Zionism as a revolutionary movement meant to found a Jewish society, free of prejudice and prosecution, where Jews could live as a unified, independent people in a land of their own.  By the end of the chapter, Mahler concisely speaks of the institutional discrimination against the Israeli Arab population, which constitutes some 20% of the population. [1]
                Chapter 3 explains major themes essential to the understanding of Israeli society and its economy. One of the major schisms in society is between Ashkenazim and Mizrachim, called also Middle-Easterners.[2] The Israeli leadership, from the early 1950s onwards, regarded western tradition and culture as the 'significant other,’ as the frame of reference to which they wanted Israel to be associated. The dominance of these ideas made Israel increasingly liberal, while the linkage between religion and state distinguished Israel from other western democracies.
                The traditional Middle Eastern culture was rejected during the formative years, and efforts were made to curtail its legitimacy. The Middle-Eastern customs were looked upon as a threat to progress, development and to Israeli democracy as such. The enunciated view was that 'we,' the Israeli elite, were benevolent people who brought the Middle-Easterners to a higher stage of development, and that it was for their own advantage to change their culture. The resulting view was, inevitably, that integration was not on equal terms. It was based on efforts to upgrade the 'backward primitives' and to reshape their entire being and thinking in the European image. Those 'primitives' were expected to switch worlds, and to start a new life according to a new set of values that included socialist, modern nationalistic, secular as well as democratic notions and norms.[3] The discrimination against Middle Eastern culture was a driving force behind the election of Menachem Begin in 1977, and in making the Likud the prime force in Israeli politics until today. Contra to Mapai and its successor Labor, the right-wing parties always showed respect to the Middle Eastern culture and rebuked the elitist sentiments of the Israeli labor movement.
                The appropriate connections between politics-ideology and the economy are of utmost importance. The first years of Israel’s young history were characterized by massive involvement of the government in the economy. This was the result of both ideological and practical reasons. Economic constraints imposed on the government the need to be very active in the economy. The government adopted communal economic responsibility at the expense of developing free-market economy. Later on, the government cooperated with the private sector, which marked the second economic phase. Thus, during the 1960s a gradual liberalization took place.
The next five chapters of Mahler’s book are concerned with Israeli governance. They explain Israel’s party system, its deficiencies and flaws.
The last two chapters are the weakest chapters of this book. Chapter 9 examines Israel foreign policy and its strategic considerations, while Chapter 10 is concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the failed attempts to reach peace. These chapters are far too short and contain some basic factual errors. They lack criticism of Israel’s blunders in achieving sustainable peace with the Palestinians.[4] Thus, for instance, the 2000 Camp David Summit is not analyzed sufficiently; there is no adequate criticism of the Shamir and Netanyahu governments’ stalling tactics which aggravates the situation and leads the region away from peace and into repeated cycles of violence; the crucial 1992 elections are not mentioned; contrary to what Mahler writes (p. 245), Hamas is not part of the PLO; and Israel and the US did not have a close relationship from the time of creation of the State of Israel (p. 232).[5] Furthermore, the UN lost its credibility in Israeli eyes not only because of its 1974 recognition of the PLO when it was regarded by Israel as a terrorist organization (p. 230), but because of the consistent stream of anti-Israeli resolutions, including the 1975 Zionism-Racism decision.[6] The composition of the UN, with more than 40 Muslim member-states and one Jewish state, yields negative bias against Israel.
This book is primarily for undergraduate students who wish to gain insight into Israeli society and politics. Politics and Government in Israel is quite balanced as Mahler relies on mainstream literature. Its major flaws are the lack of sufficient criticism of Israel when criticism is warranted and quite a few factual mistakes that undermine the quality of the book.
The book has a thorough and informative index, a valuable resource for a book that is rich with facts and condensed with information.

[1]              On discrimination, see Ilan Peleg and Dov Waxman, Israel's Palestinians (NY: Cambridge University Press, 2011). See also David Kretzmer, “Human Rights,”; Majid Al-Haj, “Whither the Green Line? Trends in the Orientation of the Palestinians in Israel and the Territories,” and Hillel Frisch, “Israel and Its Arab Citizens,” all in R. Cohen-Almagor (ed.), Israeli Democracy at the Crossroads (London: Routledge, 2005); on Arab percentage in Israeli society, see Ruth Eglash, “On eve of 2011, Israel’s population reaches 7.7 million,” The Jerusalem Post (December 29, 2010),; The Arab Population in Israel (Jerusalem, 2001),; Ryan Jones, “Israel: Jewish population up, Arab population down,” Israel Today (March 3, 2011),
[2]               I prefer the term “Middle-Easterners” when referring to immigrants from the Middle East. The other terms in use, Mizrachiim and Sepharadim may include immigrants also from outside of the Middle East. Mizrachiim also includes people from the Caucasus region while Sepharadim also include people from Spain, Portugal and the Balkans.
[3]              Raphael Cohen-Almagor, “Cultural Pluralism and the Israeli Nation-Building Ideology,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 27 (1995): 461-484; Orit Rozin, “Food, Identity and Nation-building in Israel's Formative Years,” Israel Studies Forum, Vol. 21, No.1 (2001): 54–80.

[4] See Efraim Karsh, Peace in the Middle East (London: Routledge, 1994); Foreign Affairs, The Middle East Peace Process (NY: Norton, 2002); Charles Enderlin, Shattered Dreams: The Failure of the Peace Process in the Middle East, 1995-2002 (NY: Other Press, 2003); Yossi Beilin, The Path to Geneva (NY: RDV Books, 2004); Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004); Shlomo Ben-Ami, Scars War, Wounds of Peace (London: Phoenix, 2005); Gilead Sher, The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations, 1999-2001: Within Reach (London: Routledge, 2006); Aaron David Miller, The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace (NY: Bantam, 2008); Ahmed Qurie, Beyond Oslo, the Struggle for Palestine (London: Tauris, 2008); Raphael Cohen-Almagor, “The Failed Peace Process in the Middle East 1993-2010,” Perspectives Beyond War and Crisis III -- What Kind of Palestinian State for What Kind of Peace? (Vienna: VIDC, 2011): 51-72.
[5]               In 1948, Israeli leadership did not wish to pick sides between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Israeli leadership had closer affinities to the socialist East than to capitalist West.
[6]               UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 (November 10, 1975),

New Books

If you believe movies can be useful for your teaching, you may like to consider this book:

Wanda Teays, Seeing the Light (Malden, MA.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

Seeing the Light: Exploring Ethics Through Movies is an engaging and innovative approach to the study of philosophy and the development of moral reasoning skills. Seeing the Light demonstrates how film is a powerful vehicle for sharpening skills in analysis and moral reasoning.

Seeing the Light features broad coverage of topics in ethics and moral reasoning, this book offers an innovative and imaginative approach to showing relevance of movies for ethical reflection. It draws on a diverse selection of popular movies, foreign films, and documentaries to illustrate ethical dilemmas and character development on the big screen that has application to our lives.  Seeing the Light presents coverage of major ethical theories, ranging from Ethical Egoism and Cultural Relativism to Utilitarianism, Kantian Ethics, Rawls' Justice Theory, Aristotle's Virtue Ethics, and Feminist Ethics.

Themes and movies include, inter alia:

on identity
The Bourne Identity
Being John Malkovich

on cultural relativism:
The Witness

on utilitarianism

on Kantian Ethics
The Truman Show

on feminism

on evil
Silence of the Lambs.

I thank Wiley-Blackwell for a copy of this book.

Monthly Poem


Back in the dark ages
1994 to their Lord
Coffee was brown
Tasted like shit
Make you go for tea
That was not great either.

Then came Sturbucks
Quality and care
American learned better
Late, macchiato
Frappuccino, aromato
Italian sounds great.

Green Lady everywhere
More than plants and trees
Land of the Free vegetates coffee
From one shop corner to another
Walk proud with Starbucks in their palms
Could not happen in Japan.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Gem of the Month – London Olympics 2012

This was my first Olympic experience, and what an experience it was. I have never seen London so excited, colourful, friendly, vibrant and sunny as it has been during the Olympic fortnight. It was an incredible sporting event, well-organized, thoughtful, exciting, exhilarating; a truly wonderful celebration of sport and human brotherhood.

The Olympics provided yet another affirmation that investment pays. Countries that put the resources towards the success of their athletes were rewarded and their achievements, I am certain, inspired their people. The USA finished first in the medal table with 104 medals (46 gold), regaining its stature as the powerhouse in world sports. China was relegated to the second place with 87 medals (38 gold). The host, UK, came third to the joy and pride of the whole British people. The UK had a f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c achievement: 65 medals of which 29 were gold. Fantastic was THE word that characterized the Olympic on the airwaves. 

Israel finished without a medal. There are no short-cuts in life. This is the result of poor preparation, poor resources, poor training, poor facilities. The Israeli nation was yearning for at least one medal but its athletes returned empty handed.

Compare this to countries with smaller population: New Zealand won 13 medals; Denmark 9 medals; Ireland 5 medals; Slovenia and Norway 4 medals each.

The Israeli athletes should organize themselves and establish a settlement in the West Bank. I suspect then all their financial problems will be over. They will receive ample resources and the special treatment they deserve.

The organization of the Olympics was, in one word, superb. It was refreshingly surprising to see an event of such magnitude run so efficiently, smoothly, brilliantly. The effort to make this happen, I am sure, was immense. Mayor Johnson and the Olympic organization committee deserve warm kudos and an ocean of gratitude.

The key to the London 2012 success was Boris Johnson’s 8,000 volunteers who were across London to help with everything, always with a smile, a cheer, a friendly face and beautiful spirit. These volunteers lost their English inhibitions for two weeks and were instrumental in making the London Olympics an unforgettable event. In their colourful dress, pink and purple, they were visible and well-trained to provide information about the games and also about the London many tourist attractions. They were so nice and pleasant that I would surely miss them during my next visits to London. Maybe Boris should consider continuing with this venture indefinitely. London was an inspirational host city because of them, and it can continue to be so with this wonderful spirit.

I saw great volleyball games, including the teams that reached the men's semi-final, Bulgaria and Italy. I also saw Great Britain men's volleyball, an event that sparked some concern. As a GB supporter, I wish to complain about the height of the volleyball net. It is ridiculously high. It should be lowered by 80 inches as its current height makes the life of the fine volleyball players difficult and creates a major annoyance.
I also saw women's volleyball, including the teams that reached the final -- USA and Brazil, both excellent teams.

I consider myself fortunate for seeing the American basketball team with one of the best players to ever play the game, LeBron James. The American team has a number of players who can swiftly win games: LeBron “The Best”; Kobe Bryant “Black Mamba”; Kevin “Quiet Killer” Durant; Chris “Mr Defence” “Quick Hands” Paul; Deron “Energy” Williams, and Melo Anthony. It was probably the least coached team. Mike KrzyzewskiI, considered to be the best college in the country, had prepared them to play in accordance with FIBA rules but I did not discern even one set play. It did really not matter. With such vast talent, all the coach need to do is to say: Go there, play and enjoy yourself. And this is exactly what they did.

I watched the football final Mexico v. Brazil. Mexico deserved to win. The Brazilians made four gross mistakes. The Mexicans capitalized on two of them to lead 2:0. Brazil based its game on Neymar who wanted to win alone. Undoubtedly, Neymar has talent in abundance but he needs to realize that football is a team effort. He is young. He will learn. The game ended with a 2:1 score as Hulk scored just before the last whistle to give the thousands of Brazilian supporters in the wonderful Wembley stadium some reason to rejoice.

So the English people forgot to be English, warming to the occasion, and the weather joined them. The famous English weather turned into almost Californian weather. What perfect timing to do just that. The colourful celebrations continued outside the stadiums, when hundreds of thousands of people flocked the parks to watch the big screens, to enjoy the open events, to simply feel the atmosphere and have a sense of world brotherhood. Planet Earth united to appreciate this tremendous gathering in one of the most cultural and multi-cultural cities of the world. London has so much to offer, and the Londoners showed their beautiful face: no pushing and shoving, no screams and shouting. Everyone was polite. All had time and patience. The beautiful face of civilization was shown in all shapes and colours. Wonderful.

The BBC proved, yet again, its immense qualities. It is the best TV channel I know. It provided a comprehensive coverage, with true experts in various fields, people who actually know what they are talking about, and do this with charm and grace. The coverage, of course, tended to focus on GB exceptional achievements, but you could watch other events on the Red Button (that is, if your television has a Red Button).

There were many Olympic heroes in London 2012. First, for me, was Michael Phelps who had reached an all time record of 22 medals. What an extraordinary talent. To put things in some perspective, the State of Israel won 7 medals, in all Olympics it has participated, combined. The metal of those medals is inferior to Phelps’s.

This was the greatest sporting event I have ever attended, and I enjoyed every minute. I feel very fortunate for being able to take part in such a wonderful gathering.

I thank Mervyn, James, Ron, Stefanie and Alan for their kind hospitality.

London Theatre


Adapted from the Oscar-winning movie, this wonderful play tells the story of Eric Liddell's and Harold Abrahams' quest to become the fastest men on earth. I saw it during the London Olympics and it was a very fitting occasion to reflect on the Paris Olympic of 1924 and on the Usain Bolt of that time, Abrahams. The play reflects on the personality and private lives of those very different individuals: One deeply Catholic who leads his life always trying to do the right and just thing; the other Jewish, well-aware of his Jewishness in a very British surroundings, often the only Jew around; extravagant, motivated and immensely competitive. While Liddell wanted to be the best in order to serve God, Abrahams was an individualistic, ambitious runner who wanted to make a name for himself. He simply wanted to be the best, and would not settle for a second place. The two men were rivals but at the same time they respected each other, respected their differences.

The play has a nice rhythm; it is well written and well acted. The music is familiar and the Gielgud Theatre provides a nice setting for the plot to unfold with a revolving stage and the actors/athletes appearing from the theatre doors. I very much enjoyed the play and warmly recommend it to people who are interested in sports and/or religion.

Tel Aviv Dancing

Enjoy the dance in various Tel Aviv locations:

Light Side


Friends of Irony is a funny site,


Peace and love.

Yours as ever,


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