Two items are front and center in the Israeli media. One is American and one Israeli. Both are important in their own right, and may spill over to what had been the principal issue of the peace process. 

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Palestinians should be worrying that Americans are concerned with their dirty laundry, and Israelis with a need to deal with the support of adult yeshiva students, whose current arrangements have been outlawed by the Supreme Court. What to do with thousands of men, married with large families, moving toward middle age, living on a dole and claiming to study Torah, without any conventional training?

The two issues can mean that the most important players in the peace process may stop thinking about their next moves. The Palestinians have never done much for themselves other than ask others for help. They know  violence, but that usually retards rather than advances their national aspirations. Will the fixation of Americans and Israelis with other things prompt the Palestinians to realism and compromise, or move them one step closer to the status of Kurds, Basques, Catalans, Luo and many others who no one else really cares about?

American officials are concentrating on the naughtiness of WikiLeaks, the soldier who gave it secrets, and the craziness of WikiLeaks'' founder and chief honcho. However, there is no shortage of others who are concerned about the gross lack of concern for human life and decency shown by American troops, their Muslim allies, and employees of American companies assigned much of the security activity in Iraq and elsewhere. None of this may be new, but the flood of documents is putting it in the headlines.

Israeli media are featuring the revelations, with explicit concern about American actions and Israel''s. According to one commentator, If the Americans can do what they do, we can do what we do. Just last week the undiplomatic Foreign Minister told his French and Spanish counterparts to deal with their own (Muslim) problems before lecturing Israel how to deal with its. If the same Foreign Minister has not said it already, he is probably thinking of a similar remark about American concern with IDF checkpoints and collateral damage. 

Israel''s more pressing issue of the week is not likely to worry the world, but is important here.

Some time ago the Supreme Court held that payments made to adult yeshiva students violated principles of equality, and could not continue. The decision dealt with the benefits given to yeshiva students, and the lack of benefits given to university students who pay tuition and do not receive income support while studying.

The court did not order the immediate halt of payments to yeshiva students. That would be neither humane nor feasible. There are thousands of families that rely on government payments for their minimal standards of living, who are not able to change in anything close to the short term.

Thanks to the focus on religious texts that is the entirety of their education, these men cannot respond to a wholesale demand that they "go to work."  

One way of looking at this problem is to begin with the Romans, or perhaps later with the European regimes from which the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox came. (There are also Sephardi ultra-Orthodox who assert their importance, but the leadership comes from the smaller number of Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox.)

The present generation and their ancestors far into the past learned to distrust whoever is ruling the state they live in, and to protect themselves with their own devices. Their norms emphasize communal autonomy and self-sufficiency, with reliance on leadership by their well-to-do and their rabbis. Complying with secular law has been lower in their priorities.

Traditionally, the communities provided support to a small number of Torah scholars recognized as gifted. Bright boys received stipends, or food and lodging from wealthy families while they studied with teachers and rabbis who also received some kind of community support, and then arranged marriages with the daughters of community leaders. There are some who trace Jewish success in the modern age to genetic improvements coming from the breeding of bright boys with the daughters of successful men. While the Jews were doing this, Christians were sending their best kids to the genetic black holes of the priesthood and covenants.

The world of the European ultra-Orthodox ended with the Holocaust, partly because a number of the rabbis told their followers to rely on God rather than flee. Because of their losses, Israel''s secular founders agreed to excuse yeshiva students from compulsory military service. With the development of the country''s economy, the high birth rates of the ultra-Orthodox, and the workings of coalition politics, Israel has become the first place where the not-so-bright as well as bright ultra-Orthodox men have a right to continue studying and fathering children at the public''s expense. Hundreds of thousands are living on a combination of family payments per child, the income support given to adult students, public support of the yeshivot that charge no tuition, and whatever the mothers earn from teaching, working in commerce or industry. Large families live in small apartments, in neighborhoods where the buildings are cheek by jowl with little or no vegetation.

Their communities are closed to outsiders. Information is scant. WikiLeaks has not discovered them. Fibbing to tax authorities about work they are not supposed to be doing because they are receiving money for Torah study, and inflated claims of students by the yeshivot (for per student payments) render welfare queens rank amateurs in comparison.

Israel''s secular media are telling stories about ultra-Orthodox parasites, and comparing them to university students who pay tuition, serve in the military and reserves, pay taxes on whatever they earn, and getting ready for real jobs that will add to the national product.

Ultra-Orthodox media are comparing what they claim are meager outlays on yeshivot to those of universities. They are reporting the threats of ultra-Orthodox politicians to leave the governing coalition if there in no enactment to continue the status quo. They have suggested providing income support to a small number of university students to deal with the Supreme Court''s concern for equality. They are repeating the mantra that study of Torah has special status, and assures the Lord''s support for the Jewish enterprise. Torah study is more important than all the universities and the IDF together.

It is likely that ultra-Orthodox politicians and other members of the governing coalition would like this issue to fade away. Business as usual is easier than dealing with a long standing anomaly that has been ruled  unconstitutional. However, we can count on secular activists to push in the presence of the Supreme Court''s decision, and it is not clear how much delay the Court will tolerate.

Americans wondering why Israel cannot act on this quickly might ask themselves how long it took their country to deal finally with Supreme Court decisions on integration or abortion.

We hear about proposals circulating in the Prime Minister''s Office for extending the payments to yeshiva students, but coupling them with serious inducements to leave study and go to work. The Prime Minister has built his reputation on a claim of economic good sense. Multiple outlays to a large and growing population that refuses to work does not fit with the image he has polished.

Can his coalition survive without the ultra-Orthodox parties? Will they implement their threat to leave if there is no continuation of the status quo? Is there any place for the ultra-Orthodox parties to go? How much more will they lose if they abandon their political leverage?

There are secular parties in opposition that drool at the prospect of putting it to the ultra-Orthodox, but would they also insist on other issues as conditions for supporting the coalition? If the other issues include something about the Palestinians, the Prime Minister''s party and that of his Foreign Minister might object.

It will take a while to sort out all of these possibilities. And as long as Israelis are dealing with this, and Americans with the fall out of WikiLeaks, the Palestinians will be on the back burner. Or maybe no burner.

What''s that about every cloud having a silver lining?


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