Israeli Social Cleavages: The Bad News (and what to do about it)

Israelity

ISRAELI SOCIAL CLEAVAGES: THE BAD NEWS (AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT)

Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig

Schusterman Visiting Israeli Scholar, Brown University

If my previous post on Israeli (internal Jewish) social cleavages was decidedly upbeat, this one will provide ample counterpoint. The tensions between Israeli Jews and their Arab counterparts have steadily worsened over time. The recent Acre riots were merely an exclamation point on the thickening exclamation itself. True, there have been a few symbolic advances (Israel’s first ever Arab Minister in this government) but overall the news is unremittingly bad. Two questions need to be addressed: who is at fault? and what is to be done?

The first question is relatively easy to answer: EVERYONE has been at fault to a smaller or larger extent. Perhaps it would be best to start with the general situation: the State of Israel has been beset for 60 years by surrounding Arab enemy states, only some of whom have made peace (at least formally) with her. One would be hard put to come up with any world example of a similar situation in which the nation did not view their enemies’ local compatriots with at least suspicion if not outright hostility. Just consider what America did with its West Coast Japanese citizens during World War II to understand the problem.

Having said that, Israeli policy vis-a-vis its Arab citizens has been quite shortsighted — from the Jewish/Israeli standpoint. For if Israel has major defense problems with its external neighbors, the last thing it needs to do is increase the hostility of its internal Arab population! This is not to say that Israel should bend over backwards in some sort of “affirmative action” towards local Arabs, but at the least it should try to guarantee equal resource distribution among its Jewish and Arab citizenry, something that has been far from the case since the establishment of the state. Even when taking into account extra-governmental largesse (Jewish National Fund disbursements from world Jewry), the amount of government money budgeted for education, sewage, etc., in the local Arab municipalities is extremely low by any standard — not to mention the fact that the state has not seen fit to create and nurture even one new Arab-Israeli city for decades.

However, Israeli Arabs have been blameworthy too. For starters, they have only themselves to blame for their political powerlessness. Despite their constituting close to 20% of Israel’s population, their voting record in national elections has been abysmal from two perspectives: voting turnout is significantly lower than among the Jewish population; too many Arab parties split the vote, and as many tiny parties do not overcome the minimal voting threshhold (today 2% in Israel) large numbers of votes are wasted. In addition, the Israeli-Arab leadership seems to be hell-bent on outdoing one another in blasting the government (and worse; some delegitimize the state and even call for its destruction or at least de-Judaization). Little wonder, therefore, that no Israeli government has been willing to incorporate an Arab party within its governing coalition — continuing the vicioius cycle of political powerlessness.

What is to be done? The first step must come from the government: a willingness to build new Arab cities and enable legal building by expanding the zoning within Arab municipalities; an automatic indexing of equal resources disbursed to Jewish and Arab institutions alike. Such a policy must be carried out consistently over several years, at which point the Israeli-Arab sector must make its own conciliatory moves. One such might be the acceptance of an Arab “national (civil) service” whereby all Arab young adults would serve for two or three years in some form of non-military civic institution (e.g. hospital, fire department, local civil guard, schools etc.) in parallel to army service that most Israeli Jews undertake as a matter of civic obligation. At some point, one would also begin to find political pressure building from within the Arab sector for a “non-Zionist” (instead of anti-Zionist) party willing to cooperate with, and be part of, the ruling government. Finally, perhaps the most critical of all: the Arab sector would have to vociferously denounce any and all “secessionist” or otherwise anti-Jewish political activity on the part of individual citizens (who do not represent the broad Arab population) and certainly on the part of its leadership (see: Dr. Azmi Bashara…).

Of course, a final peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict would go a long way to ameliorating the mutual distrust of these two largest national population groups within Israel. But we need not wait for the Messiah to arrive. Plenty can be done without connection to what occurs outside of Israel’s borders.

Oct. 22, 2008

Israeli Social Cleavages: The Good News

Israelity

 

Israeli Social Cleavages: The Good News

 

Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig

Schusterman Visiting Israeli Scholar, Brown University

 

This topic might seem to be downright perverse. The social news from Israel the past few days has not been sanguine. Arab-Jewish riots in the traditionally co-existing, mixed city of Acre (Akko in Hebrew), set off by an Israeli-Arab driving through a Jewish neighborhood with car radio blaring. So what’s the good news?

           It is hard to focus on what does not make the news – especially if years and years go by and the topic supplies no “news”. But that is highly newsworthy in itself – especially when the subject used to make the papers on a daily basis.

           Israeli political scientists (of which I am one), have been teaching their students for decades that Israel is an over-burdened polity as a result of the large number of serious social cleavages between groups, any one of which would be enough to destroy another democracy. The main ones: 1- Ashkenazi (Jews of Western origin) vs. Mizrakhim (Jews of Arab country provenance); 2- Religious (ultra and national) vs. Secular; 3- Israeli Arab (“Palestinian”) vs. Israeli Jews. To these one can add the central political cleavage of Left (pro-peace process) vs. Right (Greater Land of Israel).

           But most of these no longer exist as deep-rooted splits in Israel. Mizrakhim have made it to the highest echelons of society and politics (several Israeli Presidents and Army Chiefs of Staff; the present Speaker of the Knesset; many of the richest tycoons). Partly as a result, there are no more virulent campaigns like that addressed to Shimon Peres in 1981 with rotten vegetables and curses slung at him during election stops. The ultra-Orthodox are slowly entering Israeli society with nascent Haredi units existing in the Army and even a few (secular studies) colleges for the ultra-Orthodox population that has come to realize that it has to work in order to make a living. Moreover, Israel no longer suffers from massive religious demonstrations like the stone throwing on the Ramot Road in Jerusalem that went on for years every Sabbath back in the 1970s. And as to the political Left-Right split, while some animosity still exists, most of Israeli society has moved to the Center as the last election results illustrated and as constant polls show regardless of which politician is up and which down.

           In short, Israeli society has decidedly come of age. This is not to say that there are no tensions in these areas and that an unusual outburst could not still occur. But it is to say that these topics no longer have the political resonance that they once had, in part because Israelis have found the way to finesse the problems, in part because they have solved the most egregious aspects of these cleavages, and in part out of pure social exhaustion.

           So the social “non-news” is actually quite good. That leaves the major societal area of bad news that is reported on by the media. And here – completely against the grain of the other domains of Israeli life – the news is indeed bad. In fact, the split between Israeli Arabs (not just Moslems; Bedouin too) and the Jewish majority is getting palpably worse. Why this is so – and what Israel could (and should) do about it, I’ll discuss in next week’s post. Meanwhile, it would behoove Israelis and their supporters alike to bask just a little in the significant progress that has been made – the lack of “news” on this score notwithstanding.

 

Oct. 12, 2008

Leadership in Uncertainty

Israelity

 

Leadership in Uncertainty

 

Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig

Schusterman Visiting Israeli Scholar, Brown University

 

Over the past year, Americans are getting a lesson in what Israelis have been living for six decades: public life in an environment of great uncertainty. Both in economics and in politics, the U.S. has recently undergone (and continues to go through) a wild roller coaster ride with unforeseen stomach wrenching twists and turns.

           In such a period of turmoil, election campaigns tend to focus more on “personality” than on “policy” because while the latter cannot be a prescription for what to do when the unexpected occurs, the former does offer a pretty good indication of how the leader will make decisions under stress.

           In that regard, the two leading candidates to be Israel’s next prime minister could not be more different. Bibi Netanyahu is easier to parse, as he already was a prime minister and later finance minister in times of great tension and pressure. In both cases he proved to be the same individual with strikingly different outcomes. Netanyahu is a man of clear principles and overall ideology, but tends to be somewhat of a loner when making important policy decisions. Without getting into too many details, these traits were disastrous for him as prime minister but enabled him to function heroically as finance minister. Ideological consistency is fine as far as it goes but when you have to lead a motley crew of disparate parties within a coalition it turns into a recipe for paralysis or unnecessary antagonism. However, when running one’s own bailiwick (Finance Ministry), there is not that great a need for consultation – and Netanyahu’s “inflexibility” vis-à-vis other parties’ demands and warnings served the country in good stead as his budget-cutting policies enabled Israel to survive a very deep recession and go on to produce several years of excellent economic results.

           Tzippi Livni is more of a question mark, if only because she has not yet been prime minister and of the other two major ministries (defense and finance), the foreign ministry has the least “crisis management” to deal with. Yet, what we do know about her decision-making is quite the reverse of Netanyahu’s: she tends to ask for lots of advice and is a very good listener. On the other hand, the most serious criticism of her on the part of those who have seen her in action, is that she does not like to make tough decisions – precisely the opposite of Netanyahu whose self-confidence leaves no doubt (in his own eyes) as to the wisdom of whatever he decides to do.

           Livni’s approach is not surprising, given that it matches well with what the latest research has found regarding the different management styles between men and women (as a generalization, of course – for every 5 Livnis there’s one Margaret Thatcher type too). In Israel, the differences are even more pronounced, given that most prime ministers come from the Israeli Army where “gung-ho!” is the operative term.

           The parallels in the current American election campaign are striking: McCain is a Netanyahu type of leader; Obama a clone of Livni. Thus, the outcome of the American elections and Israel’s coalition formation – or Spring elections if a new Israeli government can’t be formed – will go a long way in determining what sort of relationship the two allies will have, depending on the clash or match of leadership styles in both nations.

And if you can’t wait, try this: Ha’aretz, Israel’s elite newspaper, has just introduced a “simulation game” that enables you to “play leader” in Israel based on your knowledge of the news and the political environment (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1025853.html). Do you have what it takes? We’re all asking the same question regarding McCain, Obama, Biden, Palin, Livni and Netanyahu…

 

Oct. 5, 2008

The American Bailout Plan: Lessons from Israeli History

Israelity

 

The American Bailout Plan: Lessons from Israeli History

 

Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig

Schusterman Visiting Israeli Scholar, Brown University

 

Comparisons between a whale of an economy and a minnow are always problematic. And what worked once may not work two decades later. Having offered those caveats, I still think that the Israeli experience may have an important lesson for what promises to be the biggest transfer of power in the history of the United States. The present $700 billion bailout plan will move a huge chunk of authority from Congressional political oversight to Executive (i.e. Treasury) technocratic governance. Is that healthy for democracy?

           The Israeli case suggests that it can be. From the time of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the politicians ran the nation’s economy and finances. Indeed, during Finance Minister Sapir’s tenure in the 1960s and 70s, the economy was run by “paper slips” that he kept in his pocket – mostly requests by citizens, companies and other groups for financial succor. By the early 1980s Israel was suffering from hyper-inflation (400% a year!) as a result of the amateurish way the economy was run. The country stood at the abyss – sound familiar?

           The solution they hit upon: let the academics devise a master economic plan and then let the professional technocrats in the Finance Ministry administer it in consistent fashion, with a minimum of political input. The short term result: hyperinflation was stopped in its tracks without large scale unemployment. The long term result: despite ups and downs in its security situation and other external problems, the Israeli economy over the past 20 years has gone from strength to strength; indeed, Israelis today are lamenting the fact that the shekel is so strong vis-à-vis the dollar!

           Not everyone has been satisfied with this new state of affairs (or shall we say, affairs of state). During budget negotiations in the mid-1990s, Prime Minister Rabin exploded in the Knesset when part of his political program for resource redistribution was being stymied by the Treasury, asking out loud, literally pounding his fist on the podium: “who do these Fogels [then Director General of the Ministry] think they are?” Moreover, in order to maintain a low budget deficit, the Finance Ministry has occasionally made deep cutbacks, highly unpopular among large sectors of the public and their parliamentary representatives. And yet, the Finance Ministry “boys” continue to hold sway – and the economy continues to proudly withstand the buffeting winds of international recession and other blows.

           All democracies have to make tradeoffs between political representation and governance efficiency. Having faced the abyss in the 1980s, Israel has made its pact with the “technocratic devil”. The American citizenry might well look at the Israeli case when judging the present revolutionary transformation that is being proposed. It may be less “democratic”, but enabling the professionals (not the politicians) in government to run the show at times of crisis and thereafter might well be the lesser (d)evil.

 

Shana tova to all!

Sept. 29, 2008

Hamas in Gaza: Do Sanctions Work?

 

Hamas in Gaza: Do Sanctions Work?

 

Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig

Schusterman Visiting Israeli Scholar, Brown University

 

This past week I attended a guest lecture at Brown U on the situation in the West Bank and Gaza. To my surprise (given the general anti-Israel atmosphere at most elite American universities) it was a very balanced presentation regarding the general situation, with emphasis on what is happening within the Palestinian camp – Hamas vs. Fatah etc. The lecturer’s bottom line: the sanctions against Hamas are not working and indeed might even be strengthening it – precisely the opposite of what Israel and the West want to see. Thus, argued the speaker, we should commence indirect talks with Hamas and try to get them back into the negotiation process.

           Just two related things were missing from his comprehensive analysis. First, any mention of the reason for the world’s sanctions against Hamas; second, can sanctions be successful and if so, how long does one have to wait?

           Several questions from the audience suggested that many Americans are not at all clear what Hamas wants and why almost the entire world has placed sanctions on its Gaza regime. So here in a nutshell are clauses from the Hamas official platform:

Israel will exist until Islam will obliterate it… [Hamas] strives to
raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine (Article 6). The
Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the links in the chain of the
struggle against the Zionist invaders. It goes back to 1930’s, and it
includes the struggle of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1948 war and all
Jihad operations… The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims
fight and kill the Jews (Article 7).

The land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf (endowment) until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be
given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries… neither any
organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the
right to deny that. Palestine in its entirety belongs only to the
Palestinians
. This is the law governing the Islamic Shari`ah (article 11).
Nothing is more significant or deeper than Jihad against the Zionist enemy. Resisting and quelling the enemy become the individual duty of every Muslim, male or female. Abusing any part of Palestine is tantamount to
abusing part of the religion [which means death]. There is no solution for
the Palestinian question except through Jihad to eliminate the Zionist
invasion
. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a
waste of time and vain endeavors (Article 13). Jihad is the path, and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of all wishes…
[my emphases: SLW]

I could stop here and, as in the movies, merely add: “I rest my case”. But that would be too glib, for one occasionally hears the counter-argument: “well, that’s their initial position, but with power and governance comes responsibility and compromise”. My response to that: one should respect Hamas enough to take it at its word – especially because we are not talking about a “political” matter but rather a fundamental theological principle from their perspective. There is no arguing with Allah; they haven’t changed their tune in many decades and never will.

           So what should Israel and the West do? Are sanctions the best path? One answer to that question is typically Jewish – another question: what other options are there? Any discussion with Hamas on the core issues merely lends it legitimacy and undercuts the more moderate Fatah that at least rhetorically accepts Israel’s right to exist and has been engaged in serious peace negotiations with Israel this past year or so.

           A second answer is that sanctions do, indeed, work! But they are not, as we say in Israel: “Z’bang ve’gamarnu!” [one shot and it’s over]. It’s a relatively long term process. And there are several recent examples to prove it: North Korea eventually came around to agreeing to dismantle its nuclear program; the South African apartheid regime ultimately collapsed under international sanctions; and even “crazy” Qaddafi has led his country away from terrorism back to civilized international relations as a result of heavy international pressure!

           These were bona fide countries with their own resources. Gaza has no natural resources whatsoever, no territorial link to anyone that are not part of the sanctions, and no real ongoing source of financial support. Its regime has been in existence only two years and is already showing signs of internal stress – its popularity is dropping among the Gazan population, tensions are rising between Hamas in Gaza and its “diaspora” leadership (in Syria), there is a large net emigration from Gaza of the middle and educated classes, the economy is almost moribund, and perhaps worst of all (from its perspective) it has had to put its “jihad” against Israel on hold due to Israel’s successful “targeted killing” of those involved in the Kassam rocketry over the border. Hamas is now left with dealing with sewage and concrete – not quite what a politico-theological “revolutionary” movement wants to be involved in!

           Do sanctions work in general? Under the right conditions and with enough staying power – certainly. Will they work against Hamas? The conditions here are definitely more propitious than they were with North Korea and Libya. Israel and the West are trying to “give peace a chance” with the Palestinian Authority. They would do well to continue to “give sanctions a chance” on the other side of the Palestinian divide.

 

Sept. 21, 2008

 

Perspectives on Israeli Political Corruption

 

Israelity

Perspectives on Israeli Political Corruption

 

Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig

Schusterman Visiting Israeli Scholar, Brown University

 

 

 

These days, one can’t get through a week of news on (and in) Israel without the word corruption popping up. Indeed, we are about to witness the passing of the nation’s leadership baton from PM Olmert to his elected successor, as a result of public and coalition pressure on him to resign. Under investigation in no less than five or six scandals (depending how you wish to combine or separate some cases), Olmert has set the Israeli record which heretofore was owned by the previous prime minister Ariel Sharon. Thus, the critical question has to be asked: exactly how corrupt is Israeli politics?

           Like the proverbial blind men, each of whom is trying to define an elephant when touching a different part, the reply to our question depends on one’s perspective. Indeed, it is also a function of time frame. Thus, in typical Jewish fashion the bottom line answer is a resounding “it depends”. Here are several ways of looking at the issue.

           1- It used to be worse: Awhile back when doing some research, I went into the library to read a few of the early State Comptroller annual reports. This central functionary (appointed by the Knesset and not the Government) has as its major role ferreting out, and reporting on, bureaucratic inefficiency, malfeasance and outright corruption. It made for sobering, albeit “laughable”, reading. I shall offer but one recurring example (in the 1950s): public clerks who would take home the day’s payments by the public (for licenses, registration fees etc.) and deposit them in their own personal bank account for “safekeeping”! Such endemically corrupt practices, back then widespread throughout the system, simply do not exist today. Instead we get the “major” stories of prime ministers and other political bigwigs caught with their hands in the till or involved in illegal “give and take”. Which brings us to the next perspective on the phenomenon.

           2- Investigative journalism: In the first few decades of the State, there were more than a dozen daily newspapers, and none had the “gall” to look too carefully into leadership practices. It was the era of “national development” and the Israeli media saw their role largely as Zionist cheerleaders. Moving forward 50-60 years and we find today a radically different situation: growing economic competition between the press and commercial television (not to mention within each medium too) has led them to sensationalize each police investigation and elicit leaks from the prosecutor’s office, the police and the defense lawyers in what has become a bona fide three-ring circus. Thus, not only are the media in Israel today far more willing (and even eager) to “scoop” corruption, but once brought to light the ensuing frenzy tends to reinforce the impression regarding the phenomenon well beyond its natural parameters. (Parenthetically, this occurs in other fields as well; to go by the Israeli media coverage of traffic fatalities one gets the distinct impression that the country’s drivers are the most reckless in the world, when the data show them to be situated somewhere in the middle.)

           3- It’s a young country: As we all know, Israel is 60. So where were other countries on the corruption scale at around their 60th birthday? The U.S. provides a good example: President Grant’s Administration’s numerous scandals (80 years after 1790); Boss Tweed who ran New York City like a personal fiefdom (ditto); and many others. The point is not that if it happened in America it’s not so bad, but rather that corruption seems to be a “natural” part of democratic nation-building. If Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither is clean democracy built in half a century.

           4- The system fights back: A major part of this struggle to build a clean system is the establishment of strong corruption-fighting institutions within the overall polity. I mentioned earlier the State Comptroller. With all due respect, the first ones were extremely wishy-washy; the latest are no-holds-barred corruption fighters. As with the media, here too the positive leads to a negative impression: the more they are successful, i.e. the better they are in uncovering illegitimate behavior, the greater the public perception that the situation is getting worse when what’s happening is that the institutions designed to protect the public’s interest are actually getting more effective!

           None of this is to say that Israel is about to join Switzerland or Norway on the Clean Government scale. Israel, as a member of the Middle East (with a modicum of baksheesh culture imported from the Arab world) certainly has its work cut out regarding this issue. But the cup is not only half full with corruption; it is also half empty of far worse corruption that existed beforehand but no one knew. If a corrupt prime minister has to step down from office because of public and political pressure, that’s a sign that things are moving in the right direction.

 

Sept. 15, 2008

Women in Politics: America and Israel

Israelity

Women in Politics: American and Israel

Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig

Schusterman Visiting Israeli Scholar, Brown University

 

As a political scientist, I am supposed to have answers. But sometimes I am stumped by strange phenomena that I perceive in my bailiwick.

           Let’s take the issue of women in politics, especially those running for the highest position in the land – and compare the two close allies, America and Israel. I am not making any news by noting that the U.S. has been going through a trying period these past several months with the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, her eventual close defeat, and the recent, surprising (shocking?) nomination of Sarah Palin as the VP candidate on the Republican ticket. Hillary’s campaign was especially instructive – while no one suggested that she does not have enough experience to run, and certainly she presented an extremely knowledgeable front in her command of the issues, the media were rife with the question of whether America was ready for a woman president. While Obama’s racial mix was a very quiet subtext of the media’s take on the campaign, Hillary’s gender constituted quite a lot of the actual media text in their coverage.

           Sarah Palin is in some ways an even more interesting candidate from this perspective, for Mrs. Palin’s constituency wouldn’t be caught dead voting for Hillary because of her perceived “feminist” agenda. But if it’s a five-child mother, then that’s OK for the “conservatives”. How many Hillary supporters will cross the line and vote for Mrs. Palin is another issue the media have taken up. In short, America has been caught up in a gender-campaign frenzy.

           And then there’s Israel. Here the leading candidate in the Sept. 17 primaries for the new head of the ruling “Kadima” party is a woman, Tzippi Livni. Indeed, it is clear that whoever wins this primary will have an excellent chance of being Israel’s next Prime Minister – whether before or after the next Knesset elections (which have not yet been called). Who and what is Tzippi Livni? Although she had spent a few years working for the Mossad (Israel’s CIA), no one views her as a gun-toting, shoot from the hip, female John Wayne. Indeed, it is hard to think of a leading Israeli politician in recent history whose demeanor is so quiet and tranquil – shall I say it, even “feminine”? The only one to hint that her gender might be a problem was her chief opponent in the primaries, former IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz – and he was promptly excoriated by the media for suggesting that an Israeli PM had to have serious army experience in order to lead the country. And all this, of course, without mentioning the fact that Israel already has had a female PM: Golda Meir, 40 years ago!

           But if we forget about these elections for the moment, and ask ourselves (the proverbial Man from Mars) based on the type of society America and Israel have, which would have the most trouble with a female candidate, it is clear that the answer would be “Israel”. It is still quite a male chauvinist society, not to mention large pockets of religious, patriarchal sectors where women are hardly seen and never heard from. America, on the other hand, is the Land of Liberty, of equal opportunity, of Feminism (with a capital, ideological “F” and small, practical “f” too). And yet, what we see on the micro-personal level in Israel (men running the show; little feminist support) does not translate onto the macro-political plane; and what we see in daily life in America (women in important positions in all walks of life) somehow is perceived as a “problem” when transplanted to the macro-level of national leadership.

           How to explain this? As I said at the start, I can’t. What I can state is that this is not the only area of life where such anomalies exist in the U.S.-Israel comparison. I’ll return to those ever so often in future posts.

 

Sept. 8, 2008

Another Blog on Israel?

Israelity

 Another Blog on Israel?

Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig

Schusterman Visiting Israeli Scholar, Brown University

Let’s start this first post on my blog with a well-worn Israeli joke.
 A man dies and goes to the Pearly Gates. The angel at the gate does what has been done from time immemorial: weigh the sins and the good deeds. This time, though, the outcome causes consternation – for the first time ever the two are exactly equal! So the angel asks God what is to be done, and receives the Almighty’s response: “show him Heaven and Hell and then let him decide”.
 The deceased is taken to Heaven where he sees an incredibly long table with old men gesticulating and arguing vociferously while learning from the holy books; the table has a few plates of dried, crusty bread and cups of water. “OK, so what does Hell look like?” he asks the angel. Immediately the man finds himself in a cavernous hall with wine dripping from the ceiling into gold carafes, nubile men and women gamboling about, and in general a merry time being had by all. The recently deceased man doesn’t hesitate: “I prefer Hell”.
 Within seconds he finds himself in a large cauldron of scalding water, with cackling, horn-headed creatures sticking pitchforks into his side. “Hey, what’s going on here!” he exclaims in pain. “This isn’t at all what I saw beforehand!!”
 To which a booming voice emanating from Heaven, intoned: “Ah, but then you were a   t o u r i s t…”
*************************
I imagine that many of the readers of this blog have visited Israel at one time or another – or plan to in the future. Others (or the same ones) follow Israel in the news – the usual stuff: a suicide bomber here, another election campaign there. Whether in person or as news consumers you are still “tourists”, a species of onlooker who sees the superficial aspects of a country’s life but finds it hard to get into the “kishkes” (Yiddish for innards) of the observed country. That’s what this blog is intended to do – also the answer to the question constituting the title (above) of this first post.
 Yes, I know that I misspelled “Israel” in the blog’s generic name. Which is precisely the point. The “reality” of Israel as seen by Americans is not the reality as lived by Israelis – just as the reverse is true as well (not to mention the fact that Israelis have a penchant for misspelling English words). Of course, I do not purport to know “the whole truth”; Israelis themselves are somewhat divided as to what constitutes “Israelity”, but at least they know that it is not Heaven or Hell!
So stay tuned as I try to “explicate” various aspects of Isreality, keeping in mind that there is no “right” or “wrong” way of doing things – just different strokes for different folks. Having spent half my life in the U.S. and half in Israel, I can vouch for that truism (for those morbidly curious about my past see the personal and academic profiles on this website). This blog will look at Israeli society, culture, politics, media – just about anything that is significant and/or interesting. And yes, you are more than welcome to post your comments here as well. For what would an Amerisrael blog be worth without some good old arguing?