Now that Americans and Israelis may have finished arguing about the campaign to bring emigrants back home, they are in full tilt about comments made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At a "closed" but thoroughly leaked meeting of Israeli and Americans concerned with public affairs, she expressed deep concern over what she termed a wave of anti-democratic legislation, and Israeli treatment of women.
She is said to have taken special aim at a Knesset bill meant to limit overseas donations to human rights organizations. She is also shocked by the fact that some Jerusalem buses have separate seating areas for men and women, which made her think about the story of Rosa Parks'' refusal to give up a seat to a white passenger in the 1960s. The practice of some IDF soldiers to leave events with female singers reminds her of Iran.
Several Israeli politicians have reacted with their own shrill voices. The Minister of Finance said that Israeli democracy is alive and kicking. The Minister of Environmental Protection said that elected officials should "examine their domestic problems first." In other words, Clinton ought to mind her own business.
Both Israeli ministers are on record opposing the items that caused Clinton to express her feelings, and accused her of gross exaggeration.
The Minister of the Interior expressed himself somewhat differently. "I assume that whatever will be done here will be within the measure of the law." He is the parliamentary leader of SHAS, the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party.
This exchange may best to put into the category of items where Hillary Clinton spoke too much and too shrilly, as well as items showing her and the President''s thin understanding of things Middle Eastern.
In regard to her comments about Israeli democracy, Ms Clinton was sounding like a copy of Israeli politicians of the left and center. They roundly oppose proposals to limit the funding of human rights and other leftist organizations, even while some have criticized foreign governments that fund organizations that are extreme in their anti-Israel activities. There is also wide opposition of proposals to provide elected politicians with more of a say over the selection of Supreme Court judges. However, those proposals would bring the Israel process of selecting judges closer to the overtly political procedures of Clinton''s own country.
None of the objectionable proposals have become law. That meaning to increase the role of politicians in the selection of Supreme Court judges was taken off the agenda before it received serious consideration by the Knesset. That meaning to restrict donations to left-wing organizations has been modified to narrow its scope, and is still far from being approved.
The last time I considered the definitions of democracy, they did not contain restrictions against making proposals, or arguing about what governments should or should not be doing.
The American Congress, like the Israeli Knesset, has lots of members who propose actions to suit their own whims or those of supporters. Only a small fraction of items introduced get a serious consideration, and only a portion of those find themselves enacted into law, most often altered along the way. And political scientists concerned with public administration know that there may be a world of difference between the language enacted and the actions ultimately implemented.
Clinton''s comments on women''s rights also deserve a low grade due to her shallowness and shrillness. Perhaps we should applaud her for limiting herself to women''s rights on buses and as performers, and not as participants in Orthodox religious ceremonies. That''s also something that Jews argue about, but the evidence is that seating and participation in the rituals have been segregated, at least since the 11th century. The majority of American Jews affiliated with non-Orthodox congregations may look askance as the practice, but that is how the vast majority of Israeli Jews practice their religion.
Segregated buses serve only the ultra-Orthodox communities, and the indications are that women in those communities tend to support the separation. When I ride Jerusalem''s #4 bus from French Hill through Mea She''arim to the city center, or bus #68 through Bar Ilan Street toward the Central Bus Station, I notice that ultra-Orthodox women getting on in those areas would rather stand than sit next to a male. They hold on with one hand while holding a book of Psalms or the prayer for travel in the other hand, and move their lips while reading the text silently.
When a religious couple that appears to be married gets on the bus together then sits separately, other passengers may conclude that it is one of the woman''s "impure" days. (I''ll leave it to others to explain that to the uninformed.)
Rabbis as well as politicians and ordinary Israelis are arguing about the recent uptick in religious Jews'' concerns for the separation of the sexes. If someone would translate for Ms Clinton just about any page of Talmud, she might notice that argument is central to Jewish culture. It happens in just about every Israeli political party, as well as religious academies and the study groups associated with synagogues.
On relative scores for democracy, Ms Clinton might profit from a lesson in some of the more extensive ways of thinking about the concept. Someone ought to remind her about social and economic conditions existing within walking distance of the American Capitol, and in just about every other large city. Low scores on high school completion, knowledge of civic issues and voting rates, not to mention health care, along with scores off the chart of western democracies for violence and incarceration suggest that she ought really to be talking more about what is closer to her home.