Israel's problems

It''s not easy being an Israeli. It is even harder being an Israeli policymaker, especially at the top with responsibility for things domestic and foreign.
Last week the problems were local, in the form of thousands of Israelis of Ethipian origin, one unhappy Israeli of Iraqi origin, and lots of angry Israeli Arabs, all claiming that they were not getting their share of opportunities. For the Ethiopians the most pressing issue was housing. The Iraqi--himself pretty close to the top in terms of responsibility and income--felt that people like him came up against a glass ceiling maintained by Israelis of European origin. (There aren''t enough Israelis of American origin to weigh heavily.) Arabs claimed foul in response to a narrow Supreme Court vote in favor of a statute denying residence to the Palestinians who marry into their community.
Now the headlines are about American anger and worry about Israel''s independent actions--and the prospect of even harsher actions--against Iran. Reports are that Presidents Bush and Obama were furious at brazen Mossad agents who posed as CIA when recruiting assassins meant to liquidate personnel important for Iran''s nuclear program. More recently the concern has been to achieve an Israeli undertaking not to act against Iran without American agreement or without at least informing the Americans in advance.
Commentators say that the Americans do not want another problem during an election year. By that they mean either the need to act on their often-repeated pledge to assure Israel''s security if it is Israel that pulls the trigger against Iran, or a massive increase in the prices of oil and gasoline when the Iranians do what they can to close the Gulf and world prices skyrocket.
Nobody really knows who is killing those Iranian scientists, if it is Israel, the United States, and/or others who are acting to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities, or if it is really Iranian sloppiness that is causing accidental explosions. The amount of likely disinformation is impressive, and it may include American and Israeli denials of complicity as well as mutual accusations, all meant to confuse.
Among the unknowns are the intentions of the Israelis. We''ve heard that Netanyahu and Barak have avoided commiting themselves to informing the Americans in advance of any actions. I have not noticed any Israeli pledge to avoid impersonating CIA personnel or to avoid using US dollars in seeking personnel to do the dirty stuff in Iran.
It is not hard to make a moral argument that Israel is entitled to do what its leaders think is necessary to frustrate Iran''s nuclear program. Along with that country''s assertions of peaceful intentions are its leaders'' repeated denials of the Holocaust and s tatements that Israel must be destroyed. There are also those bombings of Israeli and Jewish institutions in Buenos Aires during the 1990s, widely believed to be the work of Iran.
The wisdom of a massive Israeli attack is another matter. Jews learned a long time ago not to upset the great powers. Currently it is Washington that demands a maximum of deference. With a population less than 8 million (and less than 6 million Jews) and limited resources, Israel has to consider all those Muslim countries with enormous wealth and a billion people, plus rich and powerful Americans and Europeans who do not want to upset their Muslim residents and suppliers, or their Muslim colleagues in international organizations.
Quandary is the name of the game. Israelis argue all sides of these issues, domestic as well as international. Dispute is central to our culture and prominent in our religious texts. It is tempting to think that intermarriages involving families of European and Middle Eastern origins are dealing with ethnic issues among Jews, but feelings remain sensitive. Moreover, intermarriage is a long way from dealing with the demands of Ethiopians.
Religion is another hot issue, currently focusing on a trend toward restricting women. Extremist rabbis are leading their flocks to what moderate rabbis and secular Israelis view as the Middle Ages. Another cluster of extremist rabbis are promoting aggressive actions with respect to the Land of Israel which cause no end of worry among the rest of us and our Western allies.
Coping may be a Jewish invention, or perhaps only a skill that Jews have been poiishing for more than two millennia of dealing with powerful others. It is not a trait that produces optimum or even desirable results. It is the essence of politics, akin to the slogan of going along in order to get along. It means taking account of various interests, keeping domestic peace and keeping allies quiet by doing at the least the minimum of what is necessary. Survival is the primary concern, for both the nation and individual politicians. We should not ridicule elected officials who do what they can to stay in office, insofar as that reflects what is at the heart of coping.
Judgment is often troublesome. That Supreme Court decision about the rights of Israeli Arabs to choose Palestinian spouses and live with them in Israel provides one of the latest demonstrations. Not only were the sitting judges divided 6-5, but judges who usually vote on the liberal side of things were also ambivalent and did not do all they could have in order to carry in the decision.,7340,L-4173601,00.html
The process goes on. Several Israelis from outside of politics are positioning themselves to rescue us via the next election. We''re hoping for the best, but we shouldn''t expect it. Waiting for the Messiah is easier than deciding that he or she has arrived.