Another New York Times Op-Ed


This one praises Iran''s move away from theocracy and toward secularism, while describing Israel is moving in the opposite direction.

It seems a bit premature to applaud any sign of reasonable activity from the mullah''s of Iran, I am even less certain that the authors (one Iranian and one Israel. both writing from Palo Alto, California) are seeing clearly when they describe a parallel between Israel and what has happened in Iran since its theocratic revolution.
For one thing, they lump together the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox, and note that their political parties make up 25 percent of the Knesset.
What they do not say is that the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox are rivals, sometimes bitter in their antipathy, and usually on different pages when addressing Israel''s public policy.
They also mix the Israeli right wing with religious nationalists, citing among other things Defense Minister Moshe Ya''alon''s comments about John Kerry being obsessive and messianic.
Numerous other Israelis--including those who are overtly secular or on the fuzzy borders between religious and secular--have expressed similar views about John Kerry.
Moshe Ya''alon may be to the right of center. We can quarrel as to how far right he is on various issues. We know little or nothing about his personal beliefs and practices. However, there is no indication that he should be identified as "religious" as the term is usually employed in Israel.
Religious politicians--more often the Orthodox than the ultra-Orthodox--are known for a hard line on issues of Palestine and generally protective of the settlers in the West Bank. How many of them support an aggressive campaign of expanding settlements is another issue. Some do, but many do not. I''m not aware of any reliable indication of the proportions.
Most important, and left out of the NYT Op-Ed piece, are the actions of the Israeli government to reign in the most aggressive of the religious nationalists. 
Currently there is a test in Yitzhar, close to Nablus, one of the settlements where it is possible to find aggressive religious Jews, and rabbis who urge them on.
Last week they attacked a small military outpost, meant to defend them from nearby Palestinians. It wasn''t so much an attack as a symbolic response to the government''s destruction of some illegally built structures in Yitzhar. The few soldiers posted at the base, reservists rather than regular troops, stood by while young men from Yitzhar trashed their tent and some equipment. The soldiers felt no personal threat from the attackers, and were following orders not to use deadly force against Jews who were not threatening them with bodily harm. Israelis argue as to whether they should have used whatever they had by way of crowd control. At least one of the reservists was himself a settler who lived nearby. Subsequently all of the soldiers had trouble identifying their attackers in a police line-up.
Much of the secular and many religious activists have condemned the extremists who violated the major icon of Israel''s civic religion, i.e., the IDF. . Moreover, the government has sent the Border Police to occupy a yeshiva in Yitzhar that had been a center of extremist teaching. 
For those unfamiliar with the Border Police, it is Israel''s gendarme, used to send a tough response to those (Arabs or Jews) who are thought to deserve such a message. A high incidence of Border Police recruits are Druze and Bedouin. Others tend to be Jews from poor towns and urban neighborhoods. Sending them to occupy a Yeshiva is not the message of a religious government. Or a government moving in a religious direction.
During the first intifada, I was sent as a reserve Private in the IDF Lecture Corps to the basic training base of the Border Police. My task was to speak to the recruits about the government policy of using appropriate force against Palestinian demonstrators and stone throwers. Excessive force, of the kind used against Rodney King, did not play well on international television, would hurt Israel''s image, and would provide further provocation for Palestinian violence.
I did what I had to, before a group of perhaps 200 Druze, Bedouin, and Jews from development towns and urban neighborhoods, with a Druze officer introducing me and providing a glass of traditional tea brewed from leaves he had picked in a nearby field. I was pretty sure that I was the only Ashkenazi in the room.
At the conclusion of my talk, one of the recruits asked permission and made a comment that I''ve thought about since in connection with the Border Police. He addressed me as "Professor," and I wasn''t sure it was meant as a sign of respect. Then he said, "You should realize that a lot of us in this room like to hit people."
The young men I spoke with in 1989 are now well beyond their service in the Border Police. However, a group of today''s young Border Police, most likely of a similar demographic profile, with the addition of Ethiopians and Russians, are stationed in Yitzhar''s yeshiva. 
We should not expect nuances from the New York Times. Not only does it join the US government in referring to neighborhoods of Jerusalem as "settlements." It also likes the image of Iran becoming secular while Israel becomes theocratic.
The day when other papers were featuring news of the attack by an aged white supremacist on Jewish facilities in Kansas City, one had to look hard to find a report in the New York Times. But there is was. The layout of internet editions changes from time to time. When I looked, the Kansas City story was somewhere below an item about the anniversary of terror at the Boston Marathon.
Perhaps the Jewish issue wasn''t enough to excite the Times. Two of the three victims of the schmuck were Christians, despite reports that he was asking people if they were Jewish.
With enemies like that, things could be worse.
And the New York Times could be better.