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Israel at a Crossroads
Last uploaded : Friday 28th Feb 2003 at 03:21
Contributed by : The Editor



(Image: the kind of cartoon that is acceptable in the mainstream UK media)

Woe betide anyone who tries to fathom the intricacies of Israeli politics. Having seen how Diaspora synagogue politics can turn a person grey overnight, it is little wonder Israeli infighting is as complicated as a scholarly paper on DNA.

In any event we can report that Prime Minister Sharon?s new government has tonight received Knesset approval by a vote of 66-48, and after the vote Sharon was sworn in, followed by nineteen of the twenty-three ministers in his government. Yisrael B?Aliyah leader Natan Sharansky joined forces with the Likud and will be sworn in on Monday as Minister without Portfolio. The others:

> Gideon Ezra- Minister without portfolio in the PMs office
> Yisrael Katz - Agriculture
> Limor Livnat - remains as Education, Culture and Sport
> Shaul Mofaz remains as Minister of Defence
> Zachi Hanegbi replaces Uzi Landau as Minister for Internal Security
> Silvan Shalom (former Finance Min)has accepted the Foreign Ministry
> Benyamin Netanyahu has refused the Finance Ministry.

According to our correspondent Sheila Raviv in Jerusalem, ?the last two are the most surprising. Shalom has no FO experience and Ehud Olmert was thought to have had the Finance Min in the bag.?

The fundamental tenets of the Sharon regime remain in place -- no return of Palestinian refugees; Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty; a limited Palestinian entity comprised of small disconnected Bantustans and no Palestinian military. For this Israel would withdraw from what is regarded as occupied land. On some of these issues the Shinui party, which garnered an impressive result in the recent election, is in agreement.

I would like to journey back to 1995. Just before his assassination, Yitzhak Rabin, who would have been 81 tomorrow (and no doubt still playing a mean game of tennis had he lived on) was suffering a severe revolt in the Knesset. The noise in the chamber was exceeded only by the racket outside from Israeli citizens inflamed by his liberal moves to end the decades of violence. In the streets, religious extremists and even secular foes chanted curses. So, where is Israel now?

The last time I pontificated about Israeli politics I received many angry private letters from Israelis who felt it was not the place of Diaspora Jews to even THINK , let alone WRITE about Israel. (If every journalist in the world could not write about another nation?s politics because they are not citizens of that country, the world?s press would be a grim shadow of what it is meant to be.) The Philadelphia-based ?Jewish Exponent? newspaper also printed a stinging attack on journalists like myself who dare to editorialise on Israeli affairs. (The ?Exponent? did not attack non-Jewish writers like the bunch in Britain who regularly write things like ?Israel Simply has no Right to Exist? or ?Israel is a Terrorist State,' or the cartoonists who depict Sharon as a murderous fiend.)

I did write an irate letter to the ?Exponent? (I am a Philadelphian, by the way), my point being the immense contribution Diaspora Jews made to the formation of the Jewish State. Many Jewish men stopped everything to go and fight in Israel?s many wars. Many impoverished Jews in the Diaspora spent long, often dangerous hours raising money for Israel, often in nations where it was a crime to do so and where they did not have the freedom orn personal resources to leave for the Promised Land. My relatives were amongst the millions of Diaspora Jews who sent any spare penny to Eretz Israel.

Before I am inundated with angry letters from Israelis saying ?we don?t care about your money!? may I add that no amount of check-writing can compare to the blood and tears sacrificed by Israelis over the past seventy years in defence of the tiny homeland in which they want to live in peace. When I was in Israel for a visit in 1996 a guide told me that all of her menfolk had been killed in the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, Lebanon and the first Intifadah. She remained a cheerful and optimistic person. No Diaspora Jew can comprehend such loss over such a short timespan, but in return we would like the occasional right to express our views on the country?s health.

This takes me back to the present state of affairs. President Bush has been talking this week about ?Palestine.? This will not sit well with Israelis, who have suffered unspeakable terror and suffering since September 2000. One does not have to be a political pundit to appreciate that the President is aware of the criticism of his Administration, one of the most ?unengaged? of recent memory in the Middle East conflict. Former President Clinton spent eight years on this process but the present regime has even suggested there is no such thing as ?occupied territory.? (See our article ?Rumsfeld on Israel? in our archive.) It is unlikely, however, that this administration will engage in the process until the inevitable Iraq War is over. It seems unlikely, too, that the constraints placed on Israel by the first President Bush will be replicated this time around.

The glaring absence of Labour from this new Cabinet is regrettable. We at JewishComment feel it is better to be a presence than to absent oneself, only to allow the most extreme of elements to dominate the scene. My Israeli friends will say to me that the past two years have been so emotionally catastrophic that they no longer care about ?public opinion? in the rest of the world. I respect this. What worries me is the absence of a party that represents a swathe of Israeli society who have helped build the nation, and who were at the forefront of a process from 1994 to 1996 that led to the biggest boom in the Israeli economy in its history. We can only hope that Tommy Lapid and the Shinui party will work to temper the exhortations of the extreme Right and that the ideas of those of us who remain in the Diaspora, the huge majority of whom are secular and Reform Jews, will be respected and that we will be consulted by our brave and greatly loved Israeli meshpuchah.


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