My e-mail has received many queries
from anxious foreign friends who cannot understand what's going on here.
Israel is about to face its existential problems, its reconciliation
with the Palestinian people, its place in the region, peace and war. And
what occupies the political leadership? Questions like: Who will be in
charge of busing children to Shass schools, what shall be the
responsibilities of the deputy minister of education, whether the Shass
schools should get another 30 million shekels (the eighths of the price
of the spy plane we want to sell to China). Fateful questions, indeed!
From afar, this looks like madness,
a system gone crazy.
And in this general craziness, the
act of Meretz looks even more so. A party that represents the
intellectual elite, that stands for rational discourse, does something
totally irrational. I am searching for a logical explanation and don't
Logic says that at such a critical
stage of the struggle for peace, the presence of the Meretz ministers in
the government is necessary more than ever. Its ministers must exert
daily pressure on the Prime Minister and counter the schemes of the
settlers' friends in the government. Instead, they leave the government
one minute before the decisive hour.
Logic also says that the presence
of Shass in the government, precisely at this stage, is worth any price.
Shass does represent two important parts of Israeli society: the
Orientals and the orthodox. The support of these two communities, or at
least major parts of them, is essential in the struggle for peace. The
253,525 citizens who voted for Meretz will support peace in any case.
But the support of the 430,676 Shass voters is not assured at all. It is
a prize worth fighting for.
That's why I called upon Ehud
Barak, on he morrow of the elections, to include Shass in the new
government, at any price. Even after all the crises, idiosyncracies,
idiocies and curses we have witnessed since then, the basic facts have
not changed. It is impossible to make peace when nearly all the
Orientals and orthodox believe that peace is a matter of the secular,
The Meretz leaders say: There is no
assurance that Barak is really going to make peace. That's true. It is
quite possible that Barak is a prisoner of the settlers, or of the
generals, or of his own psychological limitations. I estimate the
chances of achieving a substantial agreement as 50-50. So what? Does
this give the Meretz leaders the right to give up a 50% chance of
putting an end to the 120-years war?
Furthermore, say the Meretz
leaders, there is no assurance at all that Shass will support peace at
the critical moment. That's true, too. Rabbi Ovadia Josef may be a dove,
but his flock is ultra-nationalistic. Perhaps the rabbi will not dare to
instruct his followers to vote for peace in a referendum. A cynic might
say that it depends upon whether the price is right. Either way, I
estimate the chances as only 30-60. But who gave the Meretz leaders the
right to give up a 30% chance when it's a matter of life and death?
And all this, because of what?
Because of the Shass schools with their 13,000 pupils, a tiny part of
the school system? Because of some million shekels, mere peanuts
compared with the colossal sums turned over quietly, without a murmur,
to the ultra-orthodox Agudat Israel?
I do not treat lightly such values
as "decent norms", "proper administration" and "civil service
decisions", which were voiced against Shass in the latest crisis. But I
ask: What is their price? 5000 dead? 1000 dead? 500 dead?
There must be a method in this
madness. What is it? I have listened attentively to Yossi Sarid. The
word "I" turned up again and again. Sentences like: They told me, they
cursed me, I made concessions, I tried, I could not, my norms. There is
something very personal in this story. The peculiar personality of Yossi
Sarid plays a central role in the act.
Minister of Education Sarid did
some good things. In critical places he introduced the "long school
day", thus making it possible to compete with Shass schools on an equal
basis. An effective and wise course. Why was he not satisfied with that,
instead of denying Shass the money for their schools, humiliating them
at every turn and exchanging curses with them?
Eight years ago, after voting for
the deportation of the 415 Islamic activists, former Meretz leader
Shulamit Aloni admitted that she suffered at the moment from "temporary
blindness". This seems to be a recurring condition at the top of Meretz.
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