Israel is not a typical country. Its prominence includes a rise in population over its 70 years of history, from less than 800,000 to more than 9,000,000. There have been wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1969, 1973, 1982, and 2006, several prominent military operations in response to West Bank intifadas or provocations from Gaza, and uncounted terror attacks before, between, and after all of those. The weight of the state is heavier than any other western democracy in the defense sector, as is its dependence on outside aid from the US government, Germany, and private contributions.
It’s the one Jewish country, with tensions among the 78 percent of the population that is Jewish, not all of it recognized as such by the Rabbinate. Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, traditional, and secular Jews tend to cluster in different political parties, and argue about military service, the sacredness of Sabbath and religious holidays, and support for settlement in the occupied territories and for the large families of ultra-Orthodox whose men prefer to study rather than to work.
And by being Jewish, it’s been dependent on aid from overseas Jews. This was heavy in the early years of the country, and currently is much lighter. But its politicians and major investors continue to rely on outsiders for aid and investment. Ehud Olmert found himself in jail due to envelopes of cash from overseas. And currently one of the charges against Benjamin Netanyahu concerns gifts requested and received from Israelis or outsiders with interests that the Prime Minister could help them with.
American and European Jews do not hesitate to express themselves on Israeli issues. Insofar as a majority of the outsiders are non-Orthodox and a majority of the insiders are Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox, it should be no surprise that disputes about doctrine and observance are prominent in the tensions. The Western Wall is especially important. Years ago the government designated a small portion of the wall as to be open for non-Orthodox observance, but increasing its size awaits implementation.
Netanyahu has support from outside, but he’s also been accused of leading Israel in a supernationalist, and even fascist direction. It’s fairly clear that he opposes the creation of a Palestinian State, and this comes up against international (Jewish and other) commitments to a Two-State solution. He’s also been targeted, perhaps unfairly, for supporting the excessive construction of homes in the West Bank and even East Jerusalem, and for supporting the inclusion in coalition parties of far rightists and even Kahanists.
The demise of the Labor Party is one trait of contemporary Israel that requires comment. It’s now with six Knesset seats. That’s five percent of the total. Down from what had once been the dominant party, and more recently a contender for national leadership. Party leader, Avi Gabbay, has announced his retirement–not only from the leadership but as well from Israeli politics. He won’t be running in the upcoming party primary.
In contrast to Likud, Labor is anything but united. It’s a noisy party, with constant criticism of its direction and its leader. Gabbay is the 11th turnover in party leadership since Rabin’s assassination in 1995.
Currently the government is wrestling with quarrels about the appointment of temporary ministerial jobs, as well as a pressingly large government debt. Neither the attitude of the Finance Minister nor the approaching election are reasons for increasing taxes, so the effort is to find cuts in expenditures. But the election itself will be costly. And an association of parents is opposed to cutting subsidies for education. It’s not an easy choice. We’ll see how it’ll be muddled.
And restiveness in Gaza, with a continuation of balloons with incendiary devices as well as a rocket attack. A month ago, facing Independence Day and the Eurovision contest, the Israeli government had agreed to a cease fire without insisting on the halting of weekend demonstrations and the balloons. Now Israel has retaliated, so we’re again at the starting point of tensions, and how to deal with them. Without the pressure of Independence Day and Eurovision.
But it won’t be a final solution. There is no such thing in connection with Gaza. What to do with two million restive Palestinians right over the border, with a terrorist organization in leadership, and the area closed by Israel on one side and Egypt on the other. No place to put the people. No one wants them. Most would be happy working in Israel, but how to tell the good guys from the rest?
Avigdor Lieberman brought us to the second election in a half year, with his opposition to the Haredim, yet his continued support for Netanyahu. Now that seems to have changed, along with other signs of weakness in Likud. Lieberman has endorsed a government of unity–between Blue White and Likud–without the ultra-Orthodox, and presumably without Netanyahu. That would represent a shift from right to center, and perhaps with Labor if it makes it over the minimum to get into the Knesset.
Like any other country?
Republished from San Diego Jewish World