Politics and its close cousin policy-making appear in a few big issues, and lots of little ones that can be very upsetting but don't amount to much more than excitement.

Big issues may include pressing an adversary in a way that may produce serious military conflict, and opening one's borders to migrants from a foreign culture.

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We’re hearing about thousands of refugees fleeing Assad’s and Russian attacks in southern Syria, heading for our border. The IDF has been supplying a refugee camp with tents and other supplies on the Syrian side, announcing that we’ll accept the injured, but only for the time of their treatment, and not the mass of the refugees. It won’t be easy deciding what to do if Assad attacks that camp.


Little problems are all around. Some reflect personal tragedies and the campaigns family members mount to make things right for them. Some touch the ideologies of a few or many, and can provoke prolonged campaigns. When the ideology merges with religious faith, clerics use their charisma to make lives miserable, but not noticeably better or worse.

Israel is on the edge of what may become serious warfare with Iran and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon. We've been in Lebanon twice, with significant casualties of our own, and lots more on their side. We know that Hezbollah has missiles that can hurt us, but we have more that can destroy Lebanon’s  infrastructure. Currently we're picking at targets of both Hezbollah and Iran, mostly in Syria, to keep them busy, hurting, and aware of our military capacity. Hopefully it'll stay at that level.

Gaza is also a potential for serious conflict, which we're playing delicately, and absorbing some damage, in the hopes that a bit of sanity will get to Hamas before we have to kill thousands and put another stain on our international reputation. Israel’s military and political leaders are holding off on a serious response to those kites and balloons, due at least partly to their concentrating on much greater problems that may develop in the north.

Illegal immigration is one of our little ones, much smaller than in European countries that opened themselves to hordes of the miserable from the Middle East and Africa.

Israel is the only First World country having a land border with Africa, and that caused significant problems until we solved it with a fence. We're left with perhaps 40,000 pre-fence arrivals, who present more political noise than a significant worry. Some have made the lives of poor natives miserable in the run down area of Tel Aviv where many of the African refugees are concentrated. Others are doing what they can to earn a living, and making families, taking advantage of the services provided by the state or voluntary organizations. A few have become prominent in a positive manner.

There have been clumsy efforts to put illegal African refugees in prisons or send them somewhere in Africa. Politicians screech but judges do not always cooperate. Except for some extremists, we've stayed away from the ranting of Donald Trump about Mexicans and Central Americans. In the case of illegals here and there, one can make the case that most stay out of trouble and do work that locals choose to avoid.

Getting ultra-Orthodox men into the army or to work and paying taxes is another rumbling sore that produces more heat than accomplishment. Anti-Haredi politicians work long and noisily at crafting schemes that must be so full of holes in order to pass muster with ultra-Orthodox parties as to accomplish little or nothing of what they claim.

Likewise those who seek to gain credit with overseas Jews by enactments that allow the small proportion of Israeli Jews who are religious, but non-Orthodox to practice their rituals at the Western Wall. Legislation has been enacted to develop a portion of that site for mixed prayer. It is not only too tiny for even the few Israelis and perhaps more tourists who would use it, but construction has been delayed due to opposition from Israeli Jews who are Orthodox.

There have been a few victories against ultra-Orthodox extremists who insist on women walking on separate sidewalks, and sitting at the back of buses serving ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Israeli centrists and leftists have not been as successful in working against separate programs of higher education for ultra-Orthodox men and women, separate seating at public events that appeal to religious Israelis, or IDF rabbis who object to women singing or serving alongside religious men.

Perhaps the most wrenching of the issues and one that may be influencing what we can accomplish with Gaza concerns the remains of two soldiers killed in the 2014 operation, and still in Gaza. Families have mounted a campaign approaching that which led to the freeing of Gilad Shalit in exchange for more than a thousand prisoners of Israel. Some of those became killers again, and were re-captured.

It's not clear if the return of Israeli bodies is the issue that prevents a settlement with Hamas, who are demanding the re-release of those re-captured Palestinians, along with a list of other demands.

Meanwhile, we endure heart-breaking scenes of a family demanding the right to bury their son in a proper grave, against the sad history of military deaths, including those of Israel, whose graves are known only to God.

The IDF has ordered its soldiers to avoid another problem like that of Gilad Shalit by doing what they can to assure that no soldier is captured alive. What that means is not entirely clear, and has been discussed in a murky fashion by military personnel high and low.

So far ranking politicians are saying that Israel will not pay for dead bodies what it paid for Gilad Shalit, but not all politicians are saying that. Among the questions posed toward the demonstrating parents is, How many other parents do you want to mourn their loved ones, due to concessions that must be made to Gazans, so that you can provide a proper burial for yours?

My late friend and colleague, Murray Edelman, reached the heights of the profession writing about the symbolic issues that move politics. They're often fuzzy, and not worth much in material terms, but capable of producing great commotion and bad decisions.


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