Minutes of Monthly Meeting

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July 14, 1996

Location: Home of Paul and Shirley Flacks

Meeting Topic: Analysis of the Israeli Elections

Speaker: Assoc. Prof. Mark Sirkin, Wright State University

Hosts: Paul and Shirley Flacks

PRESENT: Connie Breen, Cochair; Arthur Auster, Judy Auster, P. T. Bapu, Steve Coleman, Phyllis Duckwall, Tom Federle, Paul Flacks, Shirley Flacks, Hillel Fox, Deborah Rose Gaier, Sophie Kahn, Steve Kahn, Jack Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsburg, Harry Koenigsburg, Jerry Kotler, John Magee, Eileen Moorman, Ken Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Mark Sirkin, Robin Smith, Dieter Walk, Suzie Walk, Marianne Weisman, Murray Weisman.

Connie called the meeting to order at about 8:00 PM. Shirley delivered the invocation which involved a reading associated with the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'av. Connie announced that Lou Ryterband had been in the hospital recently. He is better now and is at home. All present expressed their sincere wish for Lou's speedy recovery, and looked forward to his presence at future Dialogue meetings.

Ken Rosenzweig Remarks on European Trip

At this point Ken discussed his trip to Europe, from which he has recently returned. He was in Augsburg, Germany to teach a University of Dayton course in International Accounting. While in Augsburg, Ken was asked to meet with members of the Gesellschaft fuer Christlich-Juedische Zusammenarbeit (Society for Christian-Jewish Joint Work). The Dialogue has exchanged newsletters with the Gesellschaft for the last year or so. Although Ken found his German language skills to be sorely challenged at the meeting, he found the Gesellschaft members to be very friendly and sensitive to issues of German-Jewish relations and particularly to the history of Jewish involvement in the culture of Europe.

At the Gesellschaft meeting and also at Sabbath morning services at the Augsburg synagogue, Ken talked with Mr. Mietek Pemper. Mr. Pemper, who now lives in Augsburg, was one of Oscar Schindler's Jews and in fact worked on the preparation of the list featured in the movie, Schindler's List. During the filming of the movie, Mr. Pemper, at the request of Steven Spielberg, went to Cracow, Poland to consult with Spielberg on his experiences as a Schindler Jew.

Ken passed around a beautiful book given to him about the 2,000 year history of the City of Augsburg.1 He referred the Dialogue members to sections in the book on the Third Reich period and the Jews of Augsburg as illustrations of how modern Germans are treating this unfortunate period and its Jewish victims.

After the teaching of his course was over, Ken had the opportunity to travel extensively in Germany, and he visited several sites of Jewish interest. In Berlin, Ken saw the Neue Synagoge (New Synagogue). This is a beautiful building located in East Berlin in the former German Democratic Republic. This area is in the historical Jewish quarter of Berlin. The New Synagogue was bombed out during the Second World War but has been meticulously restored. It is not used as a synagogue but instead is a museum dedicated to the culture and life of the liberal Jewish congregation which inhabited it prior to the War. There were many photographs of the social life of the congregation which Ken found to be terribly affecting because the people looked so much like Jewish people he grew up with. Ken passed around a booklet on the Neue Synagoge.

Another site visited by Ken was the Juedisches Museum (Jewish Museum) in Frankfurt. This is the largest and most well-known museum of Jewish life in Germany. One floor is devoted to the Jewish holidays and festivals and includes many Jewish ritual objects. But the part of the museum that Ken found to be most interesting was the other floor which was devoted to the history of the Jews of Frankfurt. Frankfurt had one of the largest and best developed Jewish communities in Germany. The history of this community is presented in a historical sequence beginning with the origins of the community in about 1100 and ending with the deportations of the Jews of Frankfurt during the Second World War. The history is presented with great honesty and sympathy, especially with respect to the oppression faced by the Jews of Frankfurt and the fundamental anti-Semitism of the non-Jewish Frankfurt population.

Mark Sirkin Presentation

Ken introduced Mark at 8:09 PM. Mark is a Professor of Political Science at Wright State University. He is an expert on political affairs in the Middle East. He has spoken several times on this subject to the Temple Israel Brotherhood Brunch Series.

Mark stated humorously that when Ken asked him to speak to the Dialogue on the subject of the Israeli elections, he thought Labor was going to win. Mark began by stating that although Israel is a democracy, it is a different type of democracy than the United States; it is a parliamentary democracy. Instead of three equal and independent branches as is true of the United States, the legislative branch is the dominant branch. While parliamentary countries have a figurehead president, real power is in the legislature. Mark cited the United Kingdom as an example of parliamentary democracy; Prime Minister John Major was never elected by the British people to his position; he was elected by members of his party to be its head. No single party controls the majority of the seats in the parliaments in most European parliamentary democracies. Therefore, coalitions of parties are required to form a government. In Israel, each party puts up a list of candidates. Parliamentary seats are allocated to the different parties based on their proportion of the vote. Coalitions of different parties are also necessary in Israel. Mark noted that Israel's political process is interesting but particularly confusing. Yitzhak Rabin formed the last Labor -dominated government. After Rabin was assassinated, Shimon Peres became Prime Minister and took the Labor party into the recent election.

The parties in Israel are very powerful. If a party member crosses the party leadership, he will get placed at a very low position in the party list. In this way, his chance of getting a seat in the Knesset (parliament) are greatly reduced. As a result of a revision of the Israeli political process, for the first time in the recent election, Israelis had two votes, one for prime minister and one for the party representation in the Knesset. The intention of the revision was to move toward the American model of government but it did not work out as planned.

Bibi Netanyahu was elected prime minister. Bibi is very photogenic; he spent his teenage years outside Philadelphia, and attended MIT. In the party vote, the major parties, Labor and Likud, lost votes and many smaller parties picked up support; parties that became more important include the Russian immigrants party and the religious parties. The secular left parties have the same number of seats as the secular right. 61 seats (of 120 in the Knesset) are needed to form a government. The natural coalition partner of whichever major party is attempting to form a government has been the religious parties. However, the religious parties differ from each other also. The National Religious party has Orthodox Zionist Jews. There is also the United Torah Party and Shas (composed mostly of Sephardic Jews). These religious parties want control over education and religious affairs ministries. They want such policies as banning the importation and production of pork and banning the Israeli airline, El Al, from flying on the Sabbath (Shabbat). Secular Israelis hate these restrictions, but the secular parties would rather deal with religious parties than with the major opposition party. In trying to form a government, Bibi made a lot of concessions to the religious parties early on. In this way, old line power groups in Likud were somewhat left out. One of these power brokers who was left out was Ariel Sharon. His view is that Jewish settlement is necessary in the West Bank. David Levy, a Likud stalwart, demanded that Sharon be included in the government. As of now, the Netanyahu government is still intact.

The dual election approach did not work out as it was planned by the political scientists who developed it. It is expected that, as a result of the increased power of the religious parties after the recent election, there will be more religious regulation. Mark asked those in attendance if they knew what the election would do to the Peace Process. After hearing some responses to his question, Mark predicted a period of scaled back expectations. He stated that if Shimon Peres had been more of a smart politician, he would have called elections immediately after the assassination. Instead, he waited in hope of building a peace coalition. With a small country like Israel, the margin of security is very small. After the assassination, some people became afraid and switched their vote to other parties. It is difficult to stop a terrorist who is willing to die. Time is needed to build a sense of confidence which is necessary for the Peace Process to go forward. Netanyahu has stated three positions in his recent trip to the United States: no withdrawal from the Golan Heights, no Palestinian State, and no division of Jerusalem. However, the way these positions were stated might leave room for negotiation.

The Golan Heights is an important place for Israel, from the standpoint of military security. Israel has no historical claim on the Golan. Syrian control of the Golan could threaten Israel, but Israeli control of the Heights also threatens Damascus which is only twenty miles away. Bibi has said Israel cannot withdraw from the Golan, but he is willing to talk about such issues as water rights. Mark does not expect an imminent peace with Syria. Palestine is another loser from the elections. Negotiations with the Palestinians will go slowly. Jordan is the winner in all this. King Hussein does not want a Palestinian state. Mark expects a final settlement to include a confederation of Jordan, Israel, and some Palestinian authority. Yasser Arafat will end up with a flag, postage stamps, and a seat in the UN. But the Palestinian Authority will be so economically linked to Israel, that it cannot be a threat to Israel. Israel is trying to finesse the Islamic meaning of Jerusalem in order to retain control of that city. King Hussein is in a position to claim special authority over Jerusalem.

What are the problems preventing further progress in the Peace Process? Israeli settlements in the West Bank is one. If there are a lot of new settlements and Arabs are uprooted, this may rekindle the Intifadah and build up Palestinian resentment. A lot will depend on the ability of the PLO to prevent terrorists from infiltrating Palestinian organizations. The Arab countries that are making peace with Israel have been gaining economically, but they may be seen by other Arab nations as jeopardizing the Arab cause. Mark's formal presentation ended at about 8:50 PM.

Question and Discussion Period

Steve Kahn asked about whether the Palestinian Authority could have a military force of terrorists that could threaten Israel. He also questioned Mark's idea that Israel has no claim to the Golan Heights. Mark replied that there has been good cooperation between the IDF and the PLO Authority. Mark felt that there will be little incentive for the Palestinian Authority to attack Israel or to harbor terrorists if there is a peace agreement. Eleanor Koenigsburg stated that any comparison of the Israeli acquisition of the Golan Heights or the West Bank to the Louisiana Purchase was not appropriate. Mark argued that Syria clearly had prior sovereignty over the Golan. Bapu asked about the procedure that would be required if Bibi cannot form a government. Mark replied that new elections would be called. Ken asked about how the 2-vote system led to unanticipated problems. Mark replied that it allowed people who were in favor of and voted for one of the major candidates to then vote for a splinter party in the party election. This accounted for the increased strength of the smaller parties. Harold asked about the possibility of a Grand Coalition of the two major parties. Mark emphasized that the two major parties have very different visions of the nature of Israel. Paul stated that Mark overlooked the violations of the peace agreement that the PLO has committed. He stated that Bibi's major mission was to alert the people to the necessity of holding the PLO to their commitments. Shirley and Paul have met with Palestinian Arab Americans in the Dayton area. These Palestinian Arabs stated the view that if Israel did not exist, Arab states would be democracies. Mark replied that the PLO has made a lot of errors and perhaps has committed some intentional anti-Israeli actions. But, he asked why Arafat would want to violate the peace agreement. Mark stated that many of the violations are probably minimal violations. Mark monitors Middle East discussions on the internet. Arab discussion groups tend to blame all Arab problems on Israel. Rumors are reported about chewing gum imported from Israel into Arab countries being doctored with testosterone which induces women who chew it to sexually assault men. Actually, some doctors in Egypt were doctoring gum with testosterone. Eventually, the PLO will clean up the horrid stories about Israel and Israelis contained in their educational materials. Unfortunately, there is very little contact between the Palestinian and Israeli communities. Jerry reported that he and his family just got back from Israel. Jerry said that, while in Israel, he heard about a Palestinian who named his child Yitzhak Rabin. The Palestinian was subsequently ostracized and threatened by other Arabs and had to move to Israel for his own protection. In another anecdote, Jerry and his family were swimming at an Oasis. All of a sudden, a Muslim family marched into the swimming place. However, the Israelis and Arabs did not talk to each other.

In a similar vein, Mark reported he had a Palestinian student who complained that all the Palestinian students were speaking English. Even though both Palestinians and Israelis speak English, the two groups do not speak to each other. Arthur pointed out that Jewish extremist groups are very small in Israel, but Islamic extremist groups are dominant in Islamic counties like Iran. Mark replied that, in addition to hatred of Israelis, other factors motivate these groups. Islamic fundamentalists are motivated by the fact that they have been ill treated by the political establishment in their own country as well. Dieter reported that the fear factor explains the lack of talking. He and Suzi have just returned from Israel. He observed that the PLO has enforced such a fear factor that Palestinians are afraid to talk with Israelis. Prior to the last five or six years, Israeli and Palestinian youths from the city of Efrat could play with each other. However, now they are not allowed to play together. Steve Coleman stated he has been a strong supporter of the Peace Process. But he thought that Israeli interests might be better protected in the Peace Process with the hard liner, Netanyahu. As a comparative example, he cited the initial opening to China by the hard-liner, Richard Nixon. Mark agreed that a hard-liner might be able to make progress in the peace negotiations; but he must be willing to negotiate. Eileen stated that Bibi may have sold himself to the American people by being able to speak English so well. Paul emphasized that the Palestinian-Arab-American people that he and Shirley met in Dayton were wealthy people. They were regretful that Peres had lost and asked to be reassured that Bibi's hard-line rhetoric was purely for political purposes. Paul reported that Bibi stated during his American trip that his responsibility was to represent Jewish aspirations rather than just being a blind advocate of the Peace Process. Mark agreed about Bibi's role, but emphasized that negotiations must continue. Paul observed that the hard-liner Shamir had actually started the negotiations. Steve Kahn talked about the views of Palestinians in Gaza. What they want most is to get the borders open so they can get their jobs back. Steve's son in Israel has reported that there may still be room for compromise. Murray stated that his impression is that Bibi is willing to continue the negotiations, but Arab aspirations need to be moderated. Mark agreed. The question and discussion period was completed at 9:30 PM.

Administrative Matters and Announcements

Connie announced that the Annual Christian Jewish Dialogue Picnic will be held on August 11 at NCR Old River Park beginning at 3:00 PM. All members and friends of the Dialogue are cordially invited to attend. Guests are also welcome. She passed around a sign-up list for attendance and food contributions. Food contributions should not include any fish or meat. Tickets to enter NCR Old River Park will be passed out at the park gate by a Dialogue representative. Also the representative will direct attendees to the appropriate shelter. People were asked to bring games which could be played by attendees during the picnic. Games with comparative religion content are especially welcome. Eileen will bring Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit. There are also many enjoyable activities available to attendees in the park (at extra cost), such as miniature golf and boating. People who are interested in attending or bringing food contributions may telephone Connie Breen at 293-3470.

Connie recognized Jack Kelley who wished to make a few announcements and comments. Jack welcomed the attendance at the meeting of Rabbi Hillel Fox of Beth Jacob Synagogue. Jack reported that Bert Buby is in Rome attending the International Convention of the Marianists; later he will go to Poland and Germany. Jack stated that his report on the meeting of the Christian Scholars Group will be inserted in the minutes. Jack also reported that he delivered a speech at Temple Israel in Rockaway, New York. He is also working on a paper on the development of Catholic social doctrine during the Nazi period. Jack will deliver a workshop at the National Workshop on Christian-Jewish Relations on passion plays. Jack asked the attendees to monitor any news on these topics and report them to him. Jack also reported that, as a result of the recent Israeli elections, he is apprehensive about the Middle East Peace Process.

Suzi Walk reported that Connie, Eileen, and herself are going on a tour to Israel together October 14-24. She invited others to join the tour. It is primarily a Christian tour, led by the orthodox rabbi, Yechiel Eckstein, and sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Suzi would like a Jewish couple to go with the tour. The International Fellowship has an outreach program known as On Wings of Eagles which has brought several planeloads of Jews to Israel from the former Soviet Union. Anyone interested in more information about the tour should telephone Suzi at 439-2336.

Jerry reported that he and his family just came back from Israel. They went on a tour with Rabbi Hillel Fox. They prayed at the oldest synagogue in the world (2000 years old). Jerry reported that a lot of archeological digging is going on under the Western Wall. Interestingly, much of it is sponsored by the Ohio Jewish family, the Schottensteins. Also, Larry Zussman of Dayton has donated to provide handicapped access to the archeological excavations. At Bet Shan, digging has uncovered an amphitheater in mint condition. Jerry was asked to sing from the stage of the amphitheater to test the acoustics; he sang an Italian aria.

The meeting adjourned at about 9:50 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary


1 Willy Schweinberger, Editor, Augsburg: 2,000 Years, the Jubilee Book, (Augsburg: AWO-Werbung, 1985).
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