Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Two Israels

My Israel trip started with a visit to the Technion with a short side trip to the University of Haifa. Visiting universities in Israel is not unlike visiting universities anywhere else in the world. I gave a seminar presentation, we talked research and gossiped about other computer scientists. We didn't talk politics much and then it was mostly American politics. Professors there have the usual problems balancing theorems and families.

After that, spurred by my daughter's upcoming Bat Mitzvah, I and the rest of my family did a tour with several other families from my congregation. This mission, as it was called, emphasized the Israel I grew up learning about, the Jewish state that we mention in many of our prayers. We examined the struggle of the Jews thousands of years ago, sixty years ago and today. I touched both the sacred Western wall of the old temple and the much newer wall that separates Israel proper from the territories.

Two very different experiences in the same country. But these worlds get very close. We drove by Tel Aviv University, visited a once-secret bullet factory near the Weizmann Institute and said our welcoming prayers to Jerusalem just downhill from Hebrew University. But more than that, one cannot help but notice the plaques on the walls at the Technion mentioning the various infrastructure donated from American Jews. These have been possibly the greatest gifts to the country as the strong Israeli University system has propelled an extremely successful high tech industry giving Israel an economic security that seemed unimaginable when I was a kid.

11 comments:

  1. It's hard to explain how such a tiny country has so many excellent universities and scientists.

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  2. It's not so incredibly hard to explain. Birds of a feather flock together.

    I was in Israel last summer, in Jerusalem. It also struck me that every university building seemed to be named after some American Jewish donor or other. Of course I agree that this university system is a great achievement.

    There were two other things that surprised me. One was the degree to which certain factions in Israel have erased the border between Israel and the Palestinian territories. In Western maps, Israel has the shape of a letter C, but in Israel itself, it's a trapezoid. Here is a typical map of the sort that I saw. There is no Green Line; the Jordan river is drawn as the Israeli border; and the Palestinian areas have been reduced to Indian reservations. And it's not just the maps that are like this, but also the roads, towns, and the security system. My apartment was in East Jerusalem, and I was surprised to see that it looked just like West Jerusalem; that is, that Jerusalem looked like an indivisible city. Like many people, I would hope for a two-state solution in Israel, because I think that a one-state solution would lead to civil war. So it was disturbing to see a slippery slope towards the latter, greased by settlers and other Israeli factions.

    I was also surprised at how religious Jerusalem is, not only the orthodox Jews but also the numerous muezzin calls for the Arabs. It isn't very convenient that Jerusalem all but shuts down early Friday afternoon and reopens on Sunday morning. I was told that coastal Israeli cities are not like this.

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  3. Israel and the US are similar in the sense that they were both established through a rape process. They are both keen on keeping the rape process ongoing.

    It is not expected that Israel will collapse because of its neighbors, but most probably it will do so because of a fundamental weakness in its social structure and the basis upon which the nation itself was established.

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  4. Israel and the US are similar in the sense that they were both established through a rape process.

    "Rape process" is just not a reasonable term to describe either Israeli or American history. The issue in both cases is that if you are more advanced politically and technologically than your neighbors, then you carry extra moral responsibilities. (As the Spiderman movie said, "with great power comes great responsibility.") Stealing is morally worse for an educated lawyer than for an illiterate, unemployed man.

    In the case of Israel, you can consider the fact that synagogues under Arab control have generally been treated much worse than mosques under Israeli control. If Israel were on the road to collapse from social "weakness", then the Arabs would have it worse. This prediction is false and beside the point. The point is that it's not okay to wrest more land from the Palestinians even though they might like to do worse than that.

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  6. The point is that it's not okay to wrest more land from the Palestinians even though they might like to do worse than that.

    Israel *IS* doing much worse than that.

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  7. The socialist workers party in Germany had pretty good universities in 1938 built from the aftermath of WWI and with large donations from US citizens. The South Africans had wonderful universities too during apartheid. Zionism, just like fascism and apartheid before it, is great for the ruling class. Building great universities is easy, but equality is hard. As a US citizen I have no problem with my neighbors sending money to overseas relatives, but it saddens me to see my government using its resources to actively support Zionism.

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  8. "synagogues under Arab control ...". The place where Jewish culture most flourihed was under islamic rule in Andalous. When Jews where expelled from Andalous after Reconquista they took refuge in North Africa and in the capital of Ottoman empire (Istanbul ). Jews where always much better treated under Islamic/Arab rule than in Europe or in any other place.

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  9. Jews where always much better treated under Islamic/Arab rule than in Europe or in any other place.

    Historically, sure. (It's hard to compete with the brutality of the Christians.) But the previous poster was talking about now.

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  10. There may have been a lot of external financial support for university buildings in Israel but you can't say that attractive pay makes university jobs in Israel particularly enticing.

    Surely one source of strength comes from immigrants, most recently Soviet Jews, who already had academic interests before they arrived. (The "birds of a feather" remark.) However, I think the success is part of a bigger national point of view: "Israel is vastly outnumbered by its (hostile) neighbors so the only way it will succeed is to outsmart them."

    That is very different from the US, for example, where wealth rather than security is the prime driver and the importance of outsmarting the competition rather than just outmuscling them, or using better p.r., or simply being lucky, feels much less clear. (This isn't to say that Israel isn't involved in outmuscling of its own, but it seems much less obvious that outmuscling can work for Israel overall.)

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  11. There were two other things that surprised me. One was the degree to which certain factions in Israel have erased the border between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

    I remember hearing that the green line was -illegal- to print on maps published in Israel. All I could find to corroborate this was:

    nytimes article about the green line and maps in Israel

    I was also surprised at how religious Jerusalem is...I was told that coastal Israeli cities are not like this.

    In my small experience, Tel Aviv shuts down Fri evening to Sat evening, and you can hear the prerecorded muezzin calls in Jaffa.
    (but, frankly, lots of things in Germany shut down on Sunday).

    But I agree with your Jerusalem-more-religious assessment - people are more in-your-face spiritual there; Tel Aviv, if any worshipping is done, it is of fun.

    Putting the Jewish/Arabic problems aside, There are two -Jewish- Israels, the secular and the religious, and they don't talk, or rather, they communicate by yelling.

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