Two committees are competing for Israel''s media space. Both are dealing with items that have been near the top of the agenda for some time. And consistent with their long play without solution, the clear tendency of commentary about both is pessimistic.
One is dealing with Iran''s nuclear program. Without trying to convey the details, the general picture is
- Israeli leaders are demanding the complete dismantling of Iran''s nuclear program, civilian as well as anything with military significance
- Western leaders, with Barak Obama the most prominent pronouncer, are offering their approval of medium range nuclear enrichment, suitable for civilian uses, and demanding greater inspection opportunities
- Iran officials are speaking about accommodation, but insisting on their rights as an honorable country to continue a nuclear program that they insist is peaceful
- Credible experts are saying that Iran has already amassed more nuclear capacity than would be required by any civilian program
- The commanding general of Iran''s military forces has been quoted as saying that Iran is committed to Israel''s destruction
What we are seeing is an American-European opening posture more generous to Iran than Israel''s demands. Given the nature of negotiations it is likely that the final agreement--if there is one--will be even further from Israel''s demands than the opening postures of the West.
There are optimists who say that Israeli officials are making shrill demands for the sake of pressuring the United States and Europe, and really are willing to accept whatever the Americans and Europeans decide.
Pessimists are saying something else.
Israelis use the expression of negotiations "exploding" when the participants walk about without an agreement.
In this case, we cannot rule out explosions of a different kind, more likely produced by Israel than the United States.
We''re hoping for better, but there is no good reason to expect better.
The second committee is meant to find a solution for the inequalities involved in the lack of military obligations imposed on ultra-Orthodox men, and maybe also for Israeli Arabs.
There are loud voices demanding that the Haredim be required to serve in the IDF for the same period of time, with the same demanding activity and risks as other Jewish young men.
The IDF does not want the obligation, which ranking officers see as more the provision of social service than the conventional activity of a military force. They see great expense in deciding which of the Haredi young men are suitable by virtue of health, education, and motivation for military service, and then providing a period of training that brings them up to the physical and intellectual levels where they are able to contribute to one or another activity of the IDF.
Many Israelis recognize the problems, and are willing to provide the Haredim an option of social service instead of a military obligation. The same alternative may be offered to Israeli Arabs. We can assume that many of them would not want to serve in the Zionists'' army, and the IDF would not be enthusiastic about having to subject so many candidates to security checks of their own past activities and connections with family and friends known to be troublemakers.
Haredi politicians, for their part, want none of it. They are not participating in the government committee, and insisting that they will not accept any arrangement that violates a young man''s religious obligation to devote his life to the study of sacred texts. Arab politicians may be more accommodating. A report in Ha''aretz cites Arab leaders who say that any Arab politician participating in the work of the committee would be an "Uncle Tom." However, individual Arab MKs have indicated that they will consult with the committee informally.
Pessimists are expecting this committee to produce a cosmetic revision of the current blanket deferral of ultra-Orthodox and Arab men, meant to deal with the Supreme Court''s ruling against the gross inequities involved in the present arrangement.
If there are any optimists predicting an optimum, or even decent solution for this issue, I have not heard from them.
In the air is a dramatic contrast between morality and reality. Secular activists demand that Haredi young men face the same military service as they face, principally in the name of equality of burdens and responsibility. Many of the same activists want to go further, and produce a reform that removes almost all young Heredi men from their religious academies, and require them to work after a period of military service.
Against this posture concerned with the morality of equity, IDF officers--meant to be the principle manager of the equity--do not want to be bothered with the Haredim. Their emphasis is on an army of quality, rather than serving the spirit of equality. Officers are no more enthusiastic about bring problematic secular youths up to their standard than doing the same with the Haredim.
Israel is involved in one of the periodic upticks of the demands from secular taxpayers who are tired of supporting a Haredi community that does not contribute its share to the economy or the military, and insists on a program of study for its young people that does not prepare them for anything more than continued study of religious texts. Important in this issue reaching the agenda once again are last summer''s protests in behalf of social justice. Leaders of those protests realize that they produced little, due partly to the lack of focus. Somewhere in the public''s conception of social justice and the shopping list for reforms were demands that ultra-Orthodox to do their share.
Also involved in the uptick of this issue were several episodes receiving extensive coverage concerned with Haredi insistence about females. Recall the spitting and other actions against the little girl and her mother in Beit Shemesh who tried to walk on the sidewalk designated for men on her way to school, and the several women who made news by refusing to ride in the back of Glatt Kosher buses.
The committee dealing with Iran might come up with a deal that Israeli officials decide to accept, rather than risk its status among the enlightened by blowing up the efforts of a high profile endeavor of American and European leaders.
Haredi contributions to military and economy, along with the appropriate obligations of Israeli Arabs, is something Israelis have to deal with by themselves.
I am no more optimistic about Israel solving its primary religious conflict than watching Barack Obama dealing with another issue of the Middle East with good words and warm feelings more suitable for Middle America.