Political muddle

Israeli politics is currently more a muddle than usual.

Leaving aside the knotty problem of defining the "left," two newspapers identified with the Israeli and American Jewish lefthave published reports that define the problem of the left. Ha’aretzheadlined a survey of Israelis finding that about half the adult population identify themselves withthe left and hold attitudes associated with the left, but are put off by left ofcenter parties and politicians. A majority thinks that right of center partiesare better at governing, especially in the field of national security, and express general satisfaction with the results. Most troubling for the left are the findings that young Israeli adults are more inclined than other age groups to negative attitudes about the left.

The New York Times published an op-ed piece by one ofIsrael’s leftist icons--who has assumed the titular position as head of an organization concerned to revitalize the left--that seems likely to worsen the sector’s standing in thepublic, and maybe even among Israelis who still are thinking of voting with aleft-of-center party.

Avrum Burg began in the home of Yosef Burg, a leader of theNational Religious Party that has emphasized settlement in throughout the Landof Israel since 1967. Avrum is a story worthy of serious research. He remainsreligious, but early on entered the Labor Party and climbed to its leadershipcircle and served a term in the prestigious role as Chair of the Knesset.Then he resigned from the Knesset and moved further to the left, to the point where hewent beyond Israeli conventions. In his latest New York Times op-ed, he beginsby referring to Israel’s prime minister as “warmongering,” and continues

“Israel today is a religious,capitalist state. Its religiosity is defined by the most extreme Orthodoxinterpretations. Its capitalism has erased much of the social solidarity of thepast . . .  With the elevation ofreligious solidarity over and above democratic authority, Israel has becomemore fundamentalist and less modern, more separatist and less open to theoutside world . . . When a true Israeli democracy is established, our primeminister will go to Capitol Hill and win applause from both sides of the aisle.Every time the prime minister says “peace” the world will actually believe him,and when he talks about justice and equality people will feel that these aresynonyms for Judaism and Israelis.”

It is not only the left that is in trouble.

Things are not rosy for the right. Polls are showing asignificant drop in evaluations of Netanyahu, perhaps in frustration about hischoice of continued rapport with ultra-Orthodox parties over a serious reformof Haredi exemptions from the draft and their economic benefits. However, a recentSaturday evening demonstration that was supposed to unite activists concernedto reform the draft laws along with welfare, taxes, andother issues under the umbrella of social justice attracted only 3,000 at thecentral site in Tel Aviv, and produced some pushing, shoving, and other lowlevel violence between activists with different conceptions of social justice.

For some time now there has been tension among the various reform clusters. Last year''s demonstrations of hundreds of thousands included many upper-middle class, two-professional couples seeking an even better deal on affordable and desirable housing, as well as free child care. There were also poorer, less well educated, and more hard-up Israelis, along with some having a touch of anarchism and an inclination to violence. Prominent in the mix was an anti-Haredi sector, fueled by animosity to ultra-Orthodox economic benefits and their lack of a military obligation. Several individuals had acquired a standing as "protest leaders" and did not produce an agreement as to who would lead in what direction. Some exploited he marginal phenomenon of self-immolators, while others spoke against any kind of extremism. Politicians seeking leadership of the left, middle, or left-middle, competing with other leaders who wanted politics to be kept out of their movement.

Commentators see no alternative to Netanyahu. Despite a dropin public regard, he still has the support of enough parties in the Knesset topreserve his government, and there appears to be no party or figurehead capableof unseating him and Likud should an election occur in the near future. ShellyYehimovitch, the leader of the reviving Labor Party, is flawed for lack ofexperience in the politically crucial field of defense and internationalaffairs. Security is still the elephant in the living room, trumpeting loudly with an Iranian accent.

Cynics with a flair for the conspiratorial see Netanyahuordering an attack on the elephant before the American election. Not only mightthat cause a vote-seeking Obama to come into the fray, but whatever he doesmight not be enough for Mitt Romney, and thereby help the campaign of the candidatewidely seen as Netanyahu’s friend and favorite.

One doesn’t have to be conspiratorial in order to appreciatethe delicacy of the uncertain timetable associated with Iran’s nuclear program,its threat against Israel, and the American election.

Last week''''s small and unruly demonstration makes a muddle of what hadbeen seen as prominent issues of equality and social justice.

The uncertainty bears some resemblance to one of my evening mealsin Oslo. The menu was unintelligible. The waitress described something that wasnot exactly soup, and not exactly a casserole. It contained fish (what else inNorway?), vegetables and spices. It was better than passable, and the wine wasgood. But it remained on the edge of my skills to eat what was nearly soup witha fork, and beyond my skills to recognize the ingredients or to know whichcontributed what part of the complex taste.

There were no unpleasant aftereffects later in the evening or the next day.

I wish the same for the muddle that is Israeli politics