Symbolic politics alongside violence

 Today's news may be a game changer on the order of 9-11. Islamic terrors have brought their battle to the better people of Paris, and killed some 150 of them. Our people are also busy. Yesterday there was a roadside shooting that killed a father and his son in the presence of the mother and sisters, as well as a number of violent demonstrations and some Palestinian casualties as a result. Friday is usually problematic, due to thousands going to the mosques, and some of them exposed to the most vicious incitement from those claiming to preach the religion of peace.
One such preacher, until last week al Aqsa, is now a guest of Israel security personnel.
Other issues haven't gone away.
Earlier, our headlines dealt with issues more symbolic than physical or material.
  • One of the periodic blips concerned with Reform and Conservative Judaisms in Israel
  • A step taken by  the European Parliament toward the labeling of agricultural products from the West Bank and the Golan.
We learned about the importance of symbolic issues from several writings by my late colleague and friend, Murray Edelman. They come to the fore due to the intense emotional connection they pose for individuals, often without great import on material costs or benefits.
We received another dose of dispute about non-Orthodox Judaisms due to one of the Prime Minister's meetings in the United States, when he responded to a question by saying that he had worked, and would continue to work to assure the provision of Israeli government support to Reform and Conservative congregations in Israel.
It didn't take too many minutes for his Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox colleagues to begin their ritual denunciation of non-Orthodox Judaisms, and to assert their steadfast opposition to allowing them any greater inroads. 
The next day one of the country's prominent evening discussion programs hosted Orthodox and ultra-Othodox spokesmen.
Speaking for the Orthodox was Haim Navon, a young rabbi, articulate, and moderate. He has no brief against the essence of Reform or Conservative Judaism, but weighed in against their rabbis' assertion of discrimination in Israel. He noted that there were Reform and Conservative synagogues in Israel, as well as schools operated by their congregations and funded by the government. However, they were not making great headway in recruiting Israelis. He noted that there were 40 Reform or Conservative synagogues in Israel, but 40,000 Orthodox synagogues.
Navon had no quarrel with Reform or Conservative congregations in the United States, which he described as maintaining a connection with Jewish roots, and preferable to full assimilation.
He emphasized the popularity of Orthodox Judaism in Israel, without dealing with what is more prominent, that a majority or near majority of Israeli Jews are secular. The concept is not all that clear, and the numbers depend on what is meant by "secular". Israelis who define themselves as secular are almost certain to have their sons circumcised. Most will have a Bar Mitzvah 13 years later. Many fast on Yom Kippur, have a family meal Friday evening, attend a Passover Seder, have a religious marriage and eventually a religious burial. In between those events, however, they seldom visit a synagogue. Few have been receptive to Reform or Conservative opportunities.
The ultra-Orthodox guest was the sharp tongued Dov Halbertal, who smiled or sneered as he described Reform Jews as ignorant or unconcerned about Judaism. He likened them to political, environmental, or animal rights activists, who had created a new religion. He dismissed Conservative Judaism as a passing phenomenon of Jews on their way to assimilation. He conceded that members of Reform or Conservative congregations may be Jews, but that their religion is not Judaism. Halbertal described Reform Judaism as a cult, with a flimsy connection to Judaic themes, no more prominent than the connections to Judaism of Christianity or Islam.
Those with enough Hebrew can access the discussion here, clicking on the program for 11.11. 
A more dispassionate discussion than Halbertal's would admit that the Jewish spectrum from ultra-Orthodox to Reform is a collection of different denominations (perhaps different religions, depending on one's intensity) parallel to the varieties of Christianity from Roman and Greek varieties of Catholicism and Evangelicals through numerous varieties that call themselves Protestant to the Unitarians, with the Mormons somewhere in the mix. Christians also have their equivalents of Halbertal, accusing rivals of not being true Christians, and using the nasty word "cult" for some of them. Islam also has its varieties, currently dealing with one another via firearms, missiles and knives.
Each of the Judaic denominations shows its own variations in practice. The bitterest quarrels are between different congregations of ultra-Orthodox. They extend to prohibitions against marriage between the communities, and low-level violence. Yeshiva students with no combat experience, but high dedication, are sent to flail against adversaries, with each claiming "my Rebbe is more pious than your Rebbe."
The moderator passed on to other guests and issues without listing the numerous detailed problems associated with the rights of non-Orthodox rabbis, who is a Jew, and who has the right to perform a marriage or conversion. The time allotted to the discussion may have entertained some and infuriated others. It made no pretense of solving quarrels among Jews that will not go away.
The EU Parliament has endorsed the labeling of agricultural goods from over the 1967 lines as not made in Israel, but made in the occupied territories. Still to be settled is the adoption of the move by Member States of the Union, the size and wording of the label, and the final designation of the products to be labeled.
Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, and the Israeli chapter of Peace Now welcomed the decision. Most politicians in or close to the government condemned it in various terms extending to anti-Semitism, equivalent of Nazi designation of Jewish owned businesses, and requiring Jews to wear a yellow star with the designation Jude. Yitzhak Herzog, the leader of the Labor Party, compared it to the UN Resolution of 40 years ago that Zionism was racism, which his father fought in his position as Israeli Ambassador to the UN. 
Critics accuse the EU of focusing on Israel, while there are numerous other examples of territorial disputes where the EU has not intervened on one side or another. Several are in Europe, with the Turkish portion of Cyprus being the result of a military invasion, and areas claiming autonomy in Spain (reflecting Catalonian and Basque nationalisms) and France (Corsica), as well as the repression of Kurds in large areas of Turkey.
Israeli officials declared that the primary losers from any labeling will be Palestinians, both in terms of lost employment and the likely impact of the decision on the peace process. The Foreign Ministry cancelled a meeting with a European delegation, suggesting a further limiting of European influence on the fate of Palestine.
Spokespeople of various Israeli industries predict a severe economic impact. Some are concerned about a further expansion of Europe measures meant to pressure Israel into making concessions to Palestine.
Against this, however, is the record of the Arab boycott, which reached its peak with oil embargoes of the 1970s. It is now submerged under intra-Muslim warfare and the cooperation with Israel of several former boycott leaders. 
Some are guessing that a million Muslim and African migrants, and now the attacks in Paris, will take precedence over European aspirations to solve the problems of the Middle East by way of Israel.
The definition of a symbolic, as opposed to a material issue of politics is slippery. It may depend on whose ox is gored, and how much it hurts. 
There may only be a few Israelis troubled by rules of marriage administered by religious authorities, and unwilling to visit Cyprus or some other place for a civil marriage that Israeli secular authorities are bound to recognize. For them, however, the burden is excessive and unjust. 
Israeli agricultural interests have found markets for West Bank and Golan products in countries not bothered by the details of 1967 borders, but for them and others the insult associated with the EU action is severe, and recalls steps leading to the Holocaust.
The history and spirituality of Israel may render it especially vulnerable to symbolic issues. Yet we are not alone. The US was the locale that gave rise to Murray Edelman's writing about symbolic politics, and that was long before the current flap about a transgender's choice of rest rooms.
If you do not already understand the concept of symbolic politics, consider the number of people affected by that issue, the nature of the inconvenience or embarrassment, compared to the feelings and noise generated. And you might ponder solving it by making all public restrooms unisex.