Monthly Archives: January 2013

Israeli Elections and the Move to Moderation

The “guide to parties” link is a clear guide to Israeili political parties and their position in Israeli politics. Click on Guide to parties. It is possible to see how Israel has moved to the center a little and the public is not as right wing as the world thinks. The “guide to parties” is a good and clear introduction to the political parties in Israel. It is also reproduced on my Facebook page. Of course, the surprising winner in the 2013 Israeli elections was the political party termed “yesh atid” (there is a future) headed by a newcomer to the Israeli politics Yair Lapid. Some background on Lapid is here: Yair Lapid background here. His victory was surprising to everyone and it will be interesting to watch him develop, or not, into a political leader. Lapid is considered a lightweight by many and as you can see from the background story he is currently fairly unprepared for serious national leadership.

The graph below shows the political blocs in Israel and their relative power in the new 19 Knesset. Netanyahu did not do as well as people expected and in general the Knesset moved to the center. Israelis have spoken and they are concerned with the right wing’s recalcitrant positions with respect to the peace process and settlers. One should not overstate Netanyahu’s loss. He will remain the most powerful person in the government and holds a slim majority of seats. But there will be more moderate voices and Netanyahu will now have to include and deal with political pressures from the center. The answer to Israel’s most basic problem, their relationship with the Palestinians, does not lie in the discourse of the far right. For the last few years the confidence and even arrogance of the settlers has been bolstered. But this election took them down a notch. Here are a few insights and suspicions I have about what will happen after the gritty work of forming a coalition is complete:

First, Netanyahu will try to form a stable coalition that will not fall apart if one group leaves the governing coalition. Pressure to do something about illegal settlements would cause Bayit Yehudi and its leader Naftali Bennett to bolt the coalition under such circumstances. The entire right wing bloc (see chart )is weaker than in the past and will not get its way very easily. Some of the power of the right-wing blocs will be redeployed to left of center Yesh Atid.

Second, the success of Lapid and Yesh Atid will be fascinating to watch and potentially important. Lapid has been clever so far and avoided alliances that might have hurt him.  I spoke with some Israeli friends who think that Lapid will sell out to Netanyahu quickly and easily , and others who think he will remain more independent. In either case, he is in a position to form a powerful center bloc that can mediate some of the more conservative successes of the past.  Lapid truly appeals to the Israeli center and is in a position to be very influential.

Third, the Arab parties continued to be a puzzle.  Their turnout is low and their influence is less than it should be. If they were more engaged in the political process  and had some increased respect for Israel’s democracy they would get more from their government. Of course, the Israeli right concludes that they are oppositional for a reason, which is to contribute to the failure of the political system and Israel in general.

Still, actual change will be slight. Netanyahu will form his third government and the coalition will be reasonably close to what it already is. We will have to keep our eye on Netanyahu to see whether he pivots toward the center or keeps his conservative coalition and moderates some of his positions. My guess is that there will not be much new under the sun.

Just in Final Results here.

Top 10 Anti-Semitic Slurs: Anti-Semitism or Legitimate Criticism of Israel

Below is the list of top 10 anti-Semitic slurs for 2012 from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. All but one of these contributions for the year concerns me. I always look at the statements and spend a moment chagrined and admittedly a little shaken that such discourse actually characterizes the consciousness of certain individuals and groups. But that aside, the slurs bring up the tension between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. This is a fine interpretive line that speaks to the issue of Israel as a legitimate target of political criticism, and the use of such criticism as an anti-Semitic tool. Moreover, it’s an excellent example of the distinction I like to make for students between perspective and bias. Top 10 Anti-Semitic Slurs.

Look at #9 by Jakob Augstein who is a contributor to Spiegel online. There is currently a bit of a fury in Germany over the decision by the Wiesenthal Center to list Augstein here. Augstein is a respected journalist and surely doesn’t belong in the same categories as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, the Golden Path, and Farrakhan. Moreover the issues of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, powerful political lobbying, and conservative trends in the society are legitimate issues worthy of discussion and argumentation.

One can be a respected journalist raising legitimate issues and still be quite misleading, exaggerated, and uninformed. I do not think these comments by Augstein rise to the level of anti-Semitism and do not think he should have been lumped in with the likes of the other 9 contributors. His words and style are inflammatory and certainly lacked nuance. Comparing traditional observant Jews to the sort of “Islamism” that is triumphalist in nature and promotes violence is a silly comparison based more on exaggerated rhetorical strategies rather than fact. An unfair and unjustified moral equivalency is typically the rhetorical strategy used by those characterized more by bias than perspective. The same sort of exaggeration applies to the claims about the undue influence of the Jewish lobby. It is true that the Jewish lobby in the United States is effective and strong but it does little more than successfully defend its interests in a democratic manner. There is a Saudi lobby and a Pakistani lobby and on and on. The Jewish lobby engages in the democratic process and does so successfully. But the argument that Jewish influence distorts foreign-policy is based on the assumption that there is a “correct” foreign-policy that is being subverted. If a group wants to counter the influences of the Jewish lobby then organize and come up with better arguments.

Again, I think Mr. Augstein is critical of Israel and does not do a particularly good job of defending such a position – and there is plenty to disagree with – but the charge that the statement in #9 is anti-Semitic is unjustified. Jews and Israelis who are overly sensitive to the potentialities of anti-Semitism must also work to make the distinction between a perspective based on legitimate issues critical of Israel and anti-Semitism. Staining someone with the charge of anti-Semitism, when it is only a knee-jerk response and not clearly justified, shuts down legitimate debate about Israel as a political entity and strangles the communication process.

We have to do the hard work and make the distinction between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel on the basis of argument and substantive issues. Sure, some critics of Israel are blatant anti-Semites. Showing movies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is clearly anti-Semitic; the vacant eyed whack job surrounded by guns holed up in a mountain cabin somewhere who blames the Jews for the world’s problems is anti-Semitic; comparing Israel to Nazi Germany is anti-Semitic. Even the apartheid comparison is problematic. A careful and considerate comparison between Israel and South Africa, on the basis of the best political theory and history, does not justify in any way such a comparison even though there are issues of difficult population concentration.

But making civil rights and political arguments about occupancy of the land, the status of Palestinians after their dispersal in 1948, refugees, borders, settlements, and security considerations is not anti-Semitic. These issues are not treated seriously when they are viewed as manifestations of racism and anti-Semitism. And sometimes anti-Semites attach themselves, like barnacles on the bottom of the boat, to those making legitimate criticisms of Israel. They attempt to move the discussion from quality argumentative confrontation to “delegitimization” of Isreal. Sometimes the difference between anti-Semitic intentions and fair criticism is difficult but it is a difficulty we must continue to grapple with.
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The “Business” of Peace

Establishing new relationships between adversaries is always a primary goal of the peace process. There is much in the research literature that talks about transforming relationships and typically this discussion focuses on changing attitudes, stereotype reduction, and humanizing the other. But one relationship change that receives relatively little attention but is quite effective is the process of what I call “rationalizing” relationships. Rationalized relationships are based less on personal intimacy and more on instrumental and pragmatic interdependencies. “Business relationships” are the best examples of a rationalized relationship where the two parties benefit and interact on a regular basis but do not have to be personal. Of course, an ideal goal rooted in theories such as the contact hypothesis would be to improve the quality and personal nature of the relationship since this mitigates various tensions. But this more personalized relationship is not the primary goal.

These “business relationships” are slightly different from the political relationships I wrote about on October 29th because they are less oriented toward problem-solving. Still, emotional attachment to the other is less important than the realization of interdependence and the need for practical coordination. This form of a communicative relationship serves as a useful starting point for conflict resolution, and allows minority groups in multicultural societies to establish mature relationships with the dominant group. Business relationships treat others as respectful partners that have common interests in problem resolution as much as anything else. The experience of rationalized relationships is quite compatible with the ability to sustain “reasonable disagreement.”

Business relationships recognize self-interest but develop a relationship that rests on equitable self-interest; that is, a relationship where each attends to the utilitarian and practical needs of the other. These rationalized business relationships entail, above all else and as in friendship a habit of attention by which participants in a conflict are attuned to the balances and imbalances in what they are giving up for each other. Business relationships are less concerned with intimacy because intimacy is reserved for relatively few relationships that are more absorbing and based on sacrifice and strong identity with the other. But utilitarian business relationships can apply to large numbers of people and is focused on the pragmatics of resource gratification. Parent-child, ruler and ruled, or superior- subordinate relationships are not business relationships because they limit the autonomy and agency of one person (the child, ruled, or subordinate) and are based on maximization of differences. In short, the business relationship is central to the problems associated with multicultural contact and the ability of groups to develop their capacities for trust and communication.

Recently, a United States Institute of Peace special report (special report 315) outlined the ways in which the business sector could foster peace and assist with the conflict resolution process. The relationship between business and peace is certainly complex and potentially fraught with problems of ownership, ethics, corruption, tribalism, and preoccupation with narrow market interests. And there is a line of research that points to how business exacerbates problems and can be a source of strife and tension. For example, the routine operations of a company can have negative effects on the local community, degrade the environment, and engage in unfair labor practices. But business can also sustain peace because it is based in nonviolence and consensus ethical relationships. The USIP report describes five main areas in which business relationships can be promoted of peace.

The first is economic activity which helps alleviate the relationship between poverty and violence. Jobs and a vibrant business environment creates a context for people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds to work on common goals. Cisco Systems, for example, connects Palestinians and Israelis through a $10 million investment in Palestinian technology development.

Secondly, there are benefits that accrue by respect of the rule of law associated with international labor standards. Businesses with strong ethical commitments are powerful models for the value of respecting the rule of law and clearly an avenue of peace.

A commitment to good organizational citizenship, which includes attention to local community and culture, stimulates a positive social environment and teaches the lessons of responsibility. Moreover, these relationships develop outside the company and establish an organizational-cultural relationship that engenders trust and promotes the habits of democracy.

The interaction between track one and track two diplomacy is a fourth feature of business relationships that helps lessen tensions. Business leaders can partner with government leaders to address political challenges. Finally, businesses can engage in assessment of practices that are particularly suited to the political environment. By paying attention to the unique concerns of employees, customers, and suppliers business relationships continue to rationalize the political culture.

USIP report 315 outlines these issues in more detail and extend the discussion of the relationship between business prosperity, the relationships that business engenders, and political stability and conflict prone environments.

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