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MeReZ und die Koalition:
A Touch of Lunacy

by Uri Avnery

In every lunatic asylum, there is a closed ward for the dangerously ill, those liable to kill themselves or others. If the crazy structure of Israeli politics had such a ward, the leaders of the Meretz party, who have decided to leave the government, should be sent there.

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 find one.

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, Ashkenazi elite.

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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Gush Shalom


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