Let Arab parties into the ruling coalition

As negotiations begin toward setting up a new Israeli government after the election, it’s time to give the representatives of 20 percent of Israel’s citizens an active role.

I know it’s considered heresy bordering on treachery to suggest that the Arab parties, or at least some of them, should be invited into a ruling coalition. That’s because they are pro-Palestinian and non-Zionist.

But consider this—the Palestinian “issue” is completely off the table. The Palestinians have turned down at least two Israeli offers of a state according to their own demands. There won’t be another such offer. Even if (if, not when) the Trump “Deal of the Century” is finally released, it will make no difference, because the Palestinians will reject it. They already have, without even seeing it.

So why do we insist on putting the Palestinian issue at the top of our list of priorities, when it clearly doesn’t belong there?

And why not take advantage of this situation to ignore the views of the representatives of Israel’s Arabs on that issue, and consider the advantages of bringing them onto the government?

Here they are, in short:

  • A positive stake in how the country is run.
  • An opportunity to address the backward conditions of many Israeli Arab communities.
  • Effective silencing or at least toning down of their constant criticism.

For seven decades now, Arab-Israeli political parties have been muktseh, the Jewish term for untouchable. Many Israeli Jews consider Israeli Arabs a traitorous threat to security. Perhaps many were for the first decade or two of Israel’s existence, and no doubt there are some who still are—but there are Jews who worry me more than the Arabs do.

It’s well documented that when it comes to unemployment, Arab towns are at the top of the list, and when it comes to income and education, they’re at the bottom.

What have we done to change that in the last seven decades? Not nearly enough. So how about handing one of the social welfare posts to an Arab Cabinet minister, allocate a suitable budget, and turn them loose, with the usual oversight, to work on the problems faced by their own constituents?

Giving the Arab parties an active role in government would counter their automatic rejection of everything Israel does. Of course there would be those who keep up or even increase their outcry, but so what? Their pathetic performances have not endangered the existence of the State of Israel up to now, and they certainly wouldn’t afterward.

Oh, but what of the outrageous demands that the Arab parties would make as a price for allowing us the privilege of giving them seats at the Cabinet table? They might, heaven forfend, insist on repeal of the Jewish State Law. I’ve already written about why the law was/is unnecessary (here it is if you missed it), and nothing would change if it were repealed. Israel is and will remain a Jewish state with protected minorities that have full rights, and no law or lack of one can change that.

They might demand a commitment to negotiating a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Well, no one actually has a problem with that, and anyway, as I already said, it’s off the table, so no harm, no foul.

And they might—no, they will—demand budgets to improve infrastructure, education, and welfare in Israeli Arab communities. I can’t imagine how or why anyone could object to that.

Now let’s get practical. There was a time when non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jewish political parties were muktseh, untouchable, in Israeli politics—from the points of view of both the government and the parties. Just like today with the Arab parties. We got over it. The result is that mainstream Zionist parties have been forming coalitions with non-Zionist parties for decades, and no one bats an eyelash.

And of course there was the slogan of the first decades of Israeli government-forming: “No Communists and no Herut.” Herut was the forerunner of Likud. How did that turn out?

Perhaps one day we will look back on the old days when Arab parties were automatically excluded from government and wonder why.

The times are changing. These days Arab citizens vote for a wide range of parties. The 13 seats won by the Arab parties represent only about half of the Israeli-Arab voters. There are Arab doctors, nurses, university professors, business executives—not enough, but they’re out there, and no one really notices—nor should they.

That’s how it is in the Ramla shuk, the open-air market in an old, middle-class Jewish-Arab town in central Israel. I’ve been shopping there once a week for two decades. As you can see from the photo above—you can’t tell who’s a Jew and who’s an Arab. Most of the Arabs speak Hebrew, and many of the Jews speak Arabic. Ramla’s Jews are better off, as a rule, than the Arabs—but at the shuk, everybody just gets along.

That’s the natural human condition. We need to make it the natural governing condition, too.

Israel’s election results now!

I can already tell you what the outcome of the Israeli election will be:

Wrong.

That’s because it’s being fought over the wrong issue.

It’s a contest between Bibi (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) and Bibi-lite (Benny Gantz et al). It’s misconceived “right” against “left,” where right is for Bibi, and left is against Bibi.

This comes at a time when real issues cry out for attention here:

(Read more)

Tisha B’Av—are we missing the point?

There’s a hidden aspect to Tisha B’Av, mourning the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, that could put holy sites, and the Temples themselves, into a new perspective.

I had the privilege of living in Jerusalem for 22 years, and now, I’m there at least once a week to see my kids and grandkids. I can tell you that even after driving past the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem for 47 years—there is no way to drive by without looking at them.

The walls are more than two thousand years old. That in itself is enough to draw the attention of someone like me who grew up in the US, a country where anything more than a hundred years old is an “antique.”

But the walls of the Old City are so much more than just ancient.

They represent the glory of the era of the holy Temples in Jerusalem, and the agony of their destruction.

READ MORE

Really, why don’t liberals like Trump?

A few days ago a friend asked me why liberal Democrats dislike President Trump. After all, he said, the US economy is in good shape, unemployment is at an all-time low, he’s shaking hands with enemies, he’s tough on threats like Iran, he loves Israel–so what’s the problem?

For once, the question was sincere. Usually it’s delivered with a sneer. So I answered it as best I could.

First, an explanation. Yes, I’m the one who has been advising American Jews not to debate the specifics of Israeli government policy in public. So here I am near Tel Aviv, going off on US politics. Here’s the difference: I’m a US citizen, grew up and started my career in the US, file American income taxes every year, and vote in national elections. If there are American Jews with a parallel role in Israel, then they can do what I’m doing here, with my blessing.

So here’s my answer to my friend’s question: To begin with, I said, I’m not a liberal or a Democrat. I’ve been a progressive since the ’60s, when we were called radicals. The term “progressive” has been hijacked lately by people with a different agenda, but I know what I mean.

Progressives and liberals believe that the first priority of a government is to take care of the weakest sectors of society. The second most important role is to provide moral leadership and a sense of common purpose and unity. Economic numbers ebb and flow, and even the ones we’re seeing are misleading, in that they don’t reflect the fact that while the GDP is growing, so is the gap between the richest and the poorest. Full employment should lead to wage increases–but instead, many couples still have to juggle three jobs to make ends meet–and all that effort can be sabotaged by a single serious illness. A recent study shows that two-thirds of private citizen bankruptcy filings have a significant element of health care costs behind them. There’s a chapter in my book “Why Are We Still Afraid?” comparing the US and Israeli health care systems.

In a word–the US is failing its weakest sectors. An old-fashioned progressive like me would say that the much vilified Obamacare was a baby step in the right direction, but it didn’t begin to address the structural issues that make American health care so expensive–and even Obamacare was eviscerated by a Supreme Court decision that in effect struck down the individual mandate that required people to join the program. That’s how health insurance is supposed to work–young, healthy people pay a relatively low rate that helps pay for the treatment of older people–just as those who are young today will one day be older. Instead, many younger Americans don’t get health insurance at all, driving up the premiums for those who do–and what happens if an uninsured person gets sick or has an accident? They end up in the emergency room. And who pays for that? Future patients in the hospital. We do, in other words. How is that better than Obamacare? It’s no system at all.

And health care is just one aspect. Let’s look at Baltimore.

I was there several times over the course of the three years that my son was working nearby.  I saw a major American city with rundown neighborhoods, hopeless people, violence, drugs. And what are we doing to fix this? Not very damn much. Trump prefers to heap scorn on the people and call their Representative a racist.

Let me make this clear. A progressive like me is committed to helping the weakest sectors help themselves. It is unconscionable that such neighborhoods exist in a country as wealthy as the United States. And they exist in every major city, not just Baltimore. I saw neighborhoods where the residents don’t even have access to a supermarket. These issues must be addressed.

At this point I have to say that I don’t give two sh*ts what the solutions are called: Income redistribution, tax reform, whatever. Progressives care only about working to solve the problems, not about labeling the solutions.

In fact, I find that this is a main difference between liberals and conservatives when confronted by a problem: Liberals look for solutions, while conservatives look for someone to blame.

Trump and his many, many followers are more interested in scoring points against their political opponents, labeling them traitors, racists, and worse–than in identifying problems and working to solve them. In other words–divide, divide, divide. That is not moral leadership. That is immoral leadership.

So now ask me again why liberals (much less progressives) don’t like Trump.

I’ll welcome intelligent comments on this, and I’m eager to start conversations. On the other hand, if your only response is to call me names, say my evidence is Fake News, or start in on Obama–save it.

Moon landing–the veteran and me

“Program note”–after my musings as a rookie reporter, read on for a gripping essay by Jim Slade, a friend and colleague, who actually covered the mission.

On July 20, 1969, I was fresh out of Indiana University at my first job in TV news, anchor and reporter for WTTV, fondly known as Channel 4, in Indianapolis. I was in the control room with a few of the guys, watching that scene above.

It was spectacular. We had the picture up on the control room’s main monitor, a large screen, with a direct feed from one of the networks. We stared at the screen wordlessly for minute after minute. The flag, the rover, the astronaut. The motionless camera.

All of us were silent, in awe, except for one guy. He was the director of the nightly newscast. It was his job to keep the show moving, switching from camera to camera. We anchors had to follow his directions around the studio–usually coordinated in advance, but not always.

After a few minutes, he started moving. Then squirming. Then he couldn’t take the one-camera scene any more. He stood up and hollered, “TWO! TWO!”

Jim Slade was a radio reporter in 1969, We’ve never met in person, but he had a stint in my home town, Fort Wayne, Indiana, on his way up the ladder to the networks. Unlike me, watching a TV monitor, Jim was there:

===   ===   ===

“That’s one small step for a man..”

It was stated simply enough, but it was never thought to be

simple. Audacious, maybe..outlandish, even..but never simple. The

young President stood up and said that we would send a man to the

moon and return him safely within the decade. Just like that. Of

course, he said it would be hard, but he didn’t know the half of it. He

didn’t want to know; he’d leave that to the experts who had already

told him privately that it could be done. Now they had to go out and

do it.

Apollo was built from the scraps of World War II. Technology

captured from the Germans sparked thought among American

engineers who began experimenting with rocket-powered aircraft

while others concentrated on jets. By the time John Kennedy

reached for the moon, there was already a substantial amount of

data and materials on the shelf from which the lunar program could

borrow.

So they built a three-tiered program: Mercury, Gemini and

Apollo..the first two feeding the design of the third. Mercury proved

that a human could be equipped to survive in space. Gemini showed

the human could steer himself somewhere. Apollo put it all together

and did just that.

Apollo was a political creation; science had very little to do

with it. There was a “race” with the Russians and that was what the

public saw and what they knew.  Science was a hitchhiker, grubbing

profits..and grateful for the chance; taken along because it would

have been unseemly not to.  After all, Apollo was going to a very

mysterious place. But there was no mistaking that the Engineers

were in charge and they were getting their orders from the White

House. In all truth, that’s what kept it going.

But whatever it was, it was glorious.

The test programs were methodical and tedious. Each step was

examined and restudied within the time constraints. Mistakes were

catastrophies, successes were triumphs. The schedule was

everything and the public was paying attention, so the politicians

were never far away.

When we finally did it, the whole world was watching.  For a

brief span of time, Neil Armstrong, Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin and

Michael Collins were uppermost in the thoughts of man.

Launched at 9:32 AM on July 16th, 1969, (well within JFK’s

decade) the mammoth Saturn 5 rocket shoved them out of Earth’s

atmosphere and toward the moon, which they found themselves

orbiting 76 hours later. Armstrong and Aldrin undocked the Lunar

Lander at 100 hours after launch, landing on the Moon’s Sea of

Tranquility something under one hour later

Armstrong started down the ladder at 10:56 P.M., EDT. He was

seen by a vast television audience and heard world-wide on radio as

he gingerly swung his foot toward the Lunar Surface, saying: “That’s

one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

And the world changed, never to see itself the same.

There’s a plaque fastened to the forward landing leg of Apollo

11’s Lunar Module. It says that no matter what circumstances

caused us to go to the moon, when we finally did it, we did it in the

name of humanity and not just for us. It’s a noble thought, but it

may have been a little before its time.

Apollo 11 was the end product of an effort that may have

surplanted a war. The resources and the energy that went into the

leap to the moon were the effort of a single nation, spent in a

contest designed to show the rest of the world who had the best

technology, the best engineers, the best of everything desirable.

We..we and the Russians..were determined to show everybody else

who was Top Dog. And it was a near thing.

The Russians produced a lot of firsts: first satellite, first animal

in orbit, first human in orbit, first spacewalker. The schedules

tottered back and forth with advances and setbacks. At the very

last minute, the then-Soviet Union tried to one-up us with a probe to

the moon that might have gotten there a little ahead of Apollo 11 if

things had worked out. They didn’t.

The plaque is still there, probably as bright and shiny as the

day it arrived. Perhaps someday soon, other explorers will land there

and look for it. With no weather on the moon, it’s likely they’ll find

everyhing just the way the Moonwalkers left it in 1969. Certainly,

the rudimentary instruments they left can still do a job if required.

Perhaps that will happen, too, although in the intervening years the

technology has improved exponentially…another of Apollo’s great

legacies.

Going back to the Moon is in the cards for the human race.

Maybe that plaque will have more meaning now that the competitors

have learned to work together in space, bringing other nations with

them. Certainly, if the cost is to be counted, a multi-nation effort

makes good sense, just as the Moon itself makes such good sense.

We are explorers..all of us. Our planet is ideally situated for wider

exploration of the universe because the Moon is where it is. If you

need to learn how to live on another celestial body long-term, the

Moon is your training ground, just three days away. If, eventually, we

want to go to Mars (and I think we will), then the Moon is where

we’ll go to perfect the habitat we’ll take with us and to learn the

techniques for trekking beyond the horizon. The Moon will eventually

be a staging base for Mars and beyond. It will be an ideal

communications station as well as astronomy base, too, having no

atmosphere to create interference. Getting supplies to and from

such a remote station will be a long pole in the tent..water is heavy,

and carrying it across the distance will be very difficult. It’s hoped

that ice will be found in some of the deep craters at the Moon’s

south pole to relieve that burden. That kind of analysis is well

underway and, as the plaque alludes, the time has come for “all

mankind” to find the solutions..not just one nation acting in its own

interest.

But on that day, fifty years ago when we were young, this was

our shining moment.  We did it. In fact, we did better than John

Kennedy asked, landing four men on the moon and returning them

safely within that ten year period. It was a monumental task

undertaken by a nation that thought it could do anything and

wanted the rest of the world to know it.

We were proud.

And we had every right to be.

 

Let’s get on with it.

 

Jim Slade

 

 

An(other) American medical travesty

The person mentioned in the post below is in his 80s. He’s a wonderful guy. When my father was dying, he piled my wife and kids into his private plane and flew them to the next state, to give me some private time with my dad. Now he’s in bad shape, healthwise. You would think that a person who has worked all his life, paid his taxes, paid into social Security, never in any trouble, could count on his society to take care of him in his last years. But not in the US, where health care is mostly privatized. Oh, yes, there’s a provision for the penniless–but as you’ll see here, this American’s illness has saddled him and his wife with thousands of dollars of medical fees:
I’m really pissed!! Thought xxxx had qualified for Medicaid and was happy. Turns out he only qualifies for “medically needy” and we have to accumulate several thousand dollars of bills in one month for them to pay the rest (we’re still responsible for the initial thousands). We have thousands of dollars in bills, but spread over a few months. At $1300/month in Social Security he MAKES TOO MUCH money to qualify for Medicaid!!!! That’s sick. He’s over the limit by $300/month. They counted my measly $600/month in that calculation. I guess you have to be homeless and starving to qualify for government aid. So…. we still have to pay the thousands we owe. Somehow. Grrrr……
So you’re still opposed to “socialized medicine,” that extension of the devil himself, so much worse than the minor health insurance reform called “Obamacare,” vilified as a plot to ruin the entire United States and force everyone into…what? Coverage?
Please excuse my cynicism. Thing is–I know for certain that when/if I reach that stage, I will be cared for. I won’t have to sell my house, my kids, or my grandkids to pay for my medical care. That’s because I live in Israel.
Here, under the sensible combination of public and private medical care, my government-backed HMO will take care of me for as long as I’m around. There’s a chapter in my book about how the system works, and it’s worth reading. The story based on my need for an emergency heart procedure, and how I got it done for the price of parking.
Israel’s medical system is based on the commitment of the society to take care of its people. That, my friends, is the definition of socialism. It’s not Communism, which is a whole different thing. There is a vile tendency in the United States these days to confuse the two, to denounce any proposal designed to help the needy as “socialism,” which has joined the newly created list of curse words that include “left,” “Democrat,” “liberal,” and “Obama.”
But look what that means. To every one of you. It means that when you’re old, you may well be bankrupted by your wreck of a health care system. If you’re OK with that, I wish you a long and healthy life. If you’re not–take a look at Israel’s health care system, chapter 18, and tell me if that isn’t a better way to deal with your own people.

Ethiopian-Israeli protests: what did we expect?

Like many others, I was caught in a traffic snarl because of the protests by Ethiopian-Israelis, blocking roads after an off-duty Israeli police officer shot and killed an Ethiopian-Israeli teenager. Luckily, I’m retired, so I’m rarely in a hurry anymore. That gave me time to think. Here’s what I think:

Ethiopian-Israelis have been victims of police violence repeatedly for decades. Activists from the community have organized dozens, maybe hundreds, of peaceful demonstrations in front of the Knesset and elsewhere. No one seems to care. So can we really blame them for taking it up a notch?

Here’s my suggestion: The Cabinet should mandate that each and every police officer in this country must not only undergo sensitivity training–they must all pass a test to make sure they actually participated instead of sitting in a classroom, snorting in derision and texting. I hope that would be a step toward gaining the trust of these badly treated Israelis. Not “regaining,” mind you–gaining. They have never had a reason to trust the police.

I speak as one who’s been knocked around by police many times while doing my job as a reporter. In one notable incident, a commander fired a tear gas grenade at a group of 14 reporters who were standing at the top of a road leading to a Palestinian village, after the police refused to let us enter. That’s to say, we were just standing there, and there was nothing going on, yet we were tear-gassed. Coughing, I turned on my tape recorder, climbed over rocks to the officer and asked him, “Why did you do that?” His answer: “Because I felt like it.” Within minutes of that recording airing on CBC Radio, the Israeli Foreign Ministry called me and asked for details. I am proud to say that the promotion of that particular asshole was delayed for 20 years because of my report. I would have preferred that he be fired, of course.

So what we have here is a pattern of violent abuse by police. Not all of them, of course, but enough of them. Ethiopian-Israelis are frequent targets. So sensitivity training for everyone who’s on the force, from the lowliest desk jockey right up to the chief, is what’s needed. Every one.

That won’t correct, overnight, the racism that is present in Israeli society. I heard an explanation this morning–a native-born Israeli noted that people here are brought up with the idea that white is good, and black is bad. He gave some examples of Hebrew expressions that back that up. And in fact, Ethiopians began arriving in Israel in large numbers only a few decades ago, so the stereotypes of black and white had a long time to fester here.

I have to say, though, that the same images reverberate from my childhood, six-plus decades ago, far away from here in Indiana. So we all have work to do.

For years I’ve been donating clothes, appliances, and toys to the local Ethiopian-Israeli community through the community center in the neighborhood where many of them live. A volunteer comes to my house, loads the articles into his small truck, and drives them over there. I’ve wondered what else I can do. Now would be a good time to find out. I’ll let you know what I come up with. All of us need to do more.