Israel aspires to be a normal country, but can''t make it.


Two issues dominant in recent news are the price of cottage cheese, and a prolonged labor dispute between physicians working in the public sector (the vast majority of the country''s medicine) and several governmental agencies about salary, working conditions, and an increase in the supply of physicians, hospital beds, and other items.


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Cottage cheese and the physicians'' disputes resemble numerous other tensions in normal countries. There is never enough money for what people want, and prices of this or that often spike high enough to provoke a protest and a chorus of politicians concerned to be on the wave, ahead of it, or at the least not silent when the voters are excited.


The State Comptroller appeared before a Knesset committee and got into the squabble over cottage cheese. He would begin examining the factors responsible for the price hike, and said that it was intolerable that the poor should suffer.


Most state auditors limit themselves to the financial accounts of government agencies, or whether government officials are following the rules. Israel''s State Comptroller is unusual in that the law authorizes it to inquire into just about everything, and to evaluate actions according to the standard of "moral integrity." That sounds more like the Prophet Amos calling for justice rather than an introductory textbook in accounting. (See Amos 5:23-24) The State Comptroller''s involvement in cottage cheese is one of the lesser indications that while Israel is normal arguing about prices, the figures doing the arguing are not those active elsewhere.


Some time ago Israel was a standout in the incidence of physicians and hospital beds in relation to population. That is no longer the case. The supply of physicians that came with the mass migration from the Soviet Union is aging out of the profession, and the increase in population has been greater than the increase in hospital facilities.


Changes in the economy and mores have produced a situation where the best and the brightest of young Israelis are more likely to study computer science and business administration than medicine. Physicians complain that good graduates are more inclined to specialize in fields that pay well in the private sector and have good hours, like plastic surgery, and avoid drudge fields like internal medicine. However, enough good students apply to fill available places in the country''s medical schools, and additional aspiring physicians go abroad to study in Hungary, Romania, and Italy.


The country performs well on international measures of health like longevity and infant mortality. On longevity, it ranks better than France, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Austria, Netherlands, the U.K., Germany, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Denmark and the U.S. On infant mortality it ranks better than the U.K., Canada and the U.S. Politicians have a while to decide how much they want to spend on medicine until those measures are likely to dip.

The most prominent indicators of Israel lack of normalcy appear in its region, its security, and international politics.


Not far from the northern border the Syrian regime is slaughtering citizen protesters, and claiming that the country is peaceful except for the work of outside agitators. Commentators are asking why the great powers are intervening in Libya and not Syria. One contentious answer is oil. Another is that the intervention in Libya is not going well, and western governments do not want another mess on their plate.


Israelis wonder if Arab Spring will work in their favor or bring disaster. We agree that it will impact. We have to wait for the how.

Currently the country is experiencing a week of civil defense exercises, reflecting decisions to upgrade security concerns with the home front made after the 2006 war in Lebanon. That produced extensive missile attacks, civilian casualties and destruction across the northern region. Since then there has been a substantial increase in the capacity of Hizbollah to launch missiles that will reach more extensively into Israel, and there remain threats from Hamas in the south and Iran not too far over the horizon.
 
A lot can happen between now and September, when Palestinians say they will seek salvation from the United Nations. Not likely to happen by September is:
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  1. The emergence of civilized regimes in Syria or Libya, or the development of regimes anywhere in the Middle East where westerners would find a good life and political freedom. (Except of course, for Israel.)
  2. Harmony between the various factions aspiring to control the future of Palestine, and their uniting behind a proposal likely to attract an Israeli government and producing the Palestinian state all are saying that they want.
  3. A Thomas Friedman article that admits the insolubility of the settlement issue in the context of Palestinians firmly opposed to the presence of Israeli Jews in what they claim as their land.
  4. Israelis satisfied with the allocation of resources to the various sectors demanding more.
The last of these impossibilities renders Israel like all other countries. The others touch on one or another feature of its lack of normalcy.

 

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