The underside of Israel

Four issues in current headlines may be causing some Israelis to avoid the news, and embarrassment for our overseas friends, while they are sending other Israelis to various sides of virtual barricades.

One is that young soldier who killed a Palestinian in Hebron.

Another is the faltering deal to expand the plaza alongside the Western Wall so that non-Orthodox Jews can pray as they wish at Judaism's iconic site.

The third is the arousal of an issue associated with the new-born wards of Israeli hospitals, i.e., should Jewish and Arab women be put in the same rooms?
Number four is an attractive and articulate young woman who had been a high-flying real estate developer, but when her company tanked, the bankruptcy inspector found that she had taken substantial resources for her personal use, and the issue became something for the police.
We've heard alot about the near dead Palestinian provided with a fatal shot to the head by a soldier who wasn't part of the earlier operation against him. The Palestinian already had numerous bullet wounds, wasn't going anywhere, and had been checked by an officer for explosives. The young Israeli has changed his story and is not believed by the IDF prosecutors, but he has supporters. Right wing Likudniks are threatening to unseat the Defense Minister in the next party primary due to the Minister's condemnation of the soldier's conduct.
A deal formulated by government ministers and representatives of Reform and Conservative Judaism to expand the area alongside the Western Wall and open it to non-Orthodox rituals may be falling apart. Opposition comes primarily from ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox rabbis, as well as Palestinians who see any construction alongside the Temple Mount as threatening the sanctity of al Aqsa Mosque.
The issue perplexes, embarrasses, or passes by Israel's secular Jews. They are more than 40 percent of the Jewish population, and don't have a dog in this fight.
Many feel nothing more than fatigue from the religious of various kinds. Conservative and Reform women, donning themselves in kipa, tallit, tfilin, and insisting on doing rituals reserved for men among the Orthodox appear more bizarre than helpful in obtaining recognition.
Jews have an advantage as well as problems in being both an ethnic group or tribe, and having various kinds of affiliation to a religion.
Conservative and Reform Jews may be Jews (overlooking the quarrels of Orthodox Jews about converts via non-Orthodox procedures), but adherents of a different religion or denomination than the Orthodox.
Its possible to view their demanding a place along the Western Wall as equivalent to Protestants demanding equal rights in Vatican City and the Basilica of St Peter.
These are issues that confuse as well as offend American Jews. Those of us who count votes, however, recognize that the Reform and Conservative have few or none in the Knesset, while the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox have enough to be partners in virtually every government coalition since 1948.
Reform and Conservative Jews should not expect support from secular Israelis. Years ago, one secular politician said something like, "We're not religious, we don't pray in anybody's synagogue, and we see no point in taking the side of one or another group of religious Jews."
The Prime Minister and some of his colleagues sought a deal in order to keep peace with American Jews and American politicians. But no less important to them are the votes of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox colleagues in a coalition hanging onto office with a shaky margin of one vote .
As if we didn't have enough on our plate, an MK from the Orthodox/Settler party Jewish Home has made an issue about putting new Jewish mothers in the same hospital rooms with new Arab mothers.
Elegance is not apparent in the comments of MK Bezalel Smotrich.
“My wife is truly no racist, but after giving birth she wants to rest rather than have a hafla — a mass feast often accompanied by music and dancing — like the Arabs have after their births. . . . It’s natural that my wife wouldn’t want to lie down [in a bed] next to a woman who just gave birth to a baby who might want to murder her baby twenty years from now. . . . Arabs are my enemies and that’s why I don’t enjoy being next to them.”
Comments by Smothrich's wife, Revital, were hardly more enlightened.
"(I) kicked an Arab obstetrician out of the [delivery] room. I want Jewish hands to touch my baby, and I wasn’t comfortable lying in the same room with an Arab woman. . . .I refuse to have an Arab midwife, because for me giving birth is a Jewish and pure moment.” .
The storm was not long in coming. Smotrich's party leader, Naftali Bennett, quoted the Mishnah that “every human created in God’s image is favored,” and added that it means “every human, Jewish or Arab.”
Arab politicians were harsher, and the spokespeople of various hospitals reported that they do or do not honor requests to put Arab and Jewish women in different rooms after childbirth.
The Ministry of Health announced that it was against policy to segregate patients or staff according to ethnicity or religion.
Our little Adi and her mother had Arab roommates. The babies cried in the same language, and we don't recall complaints from their families.
Some of the most professional of medical personnel we've dealt with have been Arabs, Armenians, or Jews who speak with a Russian accent.
The real estate developer doesn't rank with any of the above as anything distinctively Israeli. Rather, she demonstrates that some of us are as vulnerable to greed as in any society. We've seen videos of her trying to persuade angry people who paid for apartments she had no authority to build, with overlay commentary about her selling the same apartments to different people, use of company funds for overseas travel not connected with the business, expensive jewelry, a classy motorcycle, a luxury car, and a payoff to her former husband.
For a few days we were hearing about the collapse of her real estate firm. Then we began hearing that the police were telling her that she could remain silent, but that anything she said could be used in court against her.
That's us. Not all Israelis can overlook ethnic/religious differences or display indifference to material goods in the way of year-old Adi.
It ain't all pretty. But which country's population can claim better?
Those expecting the Promised Land to be Paradise on Earth, or impeccable morality from God's Chosen People, should think some more.
Comments welcome
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
[email protected]