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Commentary: Despite ‘crises,’ Israeli life remains on even keel

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–The sky is not falling. Today.

After a week or so of panic following the encounter with the Turkish flotilla, nastiness from the peaks of the Turkish government, conventional censures from the United Nations and NGOs, and shrill comments of “We told you so” from J Street types, more conventional economics and politics have been doing their work. The most recent news is that Israeli and Turkish businesses are still dealing, and leading military personnel of the two countries continue with their mutually rewarding activities. Israel is shipping sophisticated military equipment to Turkey, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry has withdrawn its warning about visiting that country. Travel agents are celebrating, and again offering packages to the Turkish coast that for some years have been attracting middle- and working class Israelis looking for affordable family vacations.  

After the Turkish flap, there was a week or two of high excitement among Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative extremists concerned to guard their turf over the issue of conversion to Judaism. All of the above again demonstrated their capacity to create reasons for spurring their activists to commotion. They saw indications that threatened the integrity of the Jewish people, and perhaps more importantly the status of their own organizations and personalities. The nucleus of their concern was what may be no more than a handful of individuals wanting a non-Orthodox conversion to take place within Israel.

The outcome to date is a tense standoff. The proposal meant to settle things from the Orthodox perspective has been withdrawn, at least for a while, from the Knesset’s agenda. The result is that a different handful or more from among 300,000 or so immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not considered halachic Jews, and who actually want to convert, will find the road as rocky as before. Ultra-Orthodox activists are gloating, and the bureaucrats in the Interior Ministry continue to raise their objections to conversions by rabbis they do not accept as such, despite decisions that Reform and Conservative organizations extracted from the Supreme Court.

According to a note from a friend who is a Liberal religious activist:
“The . . . Ministry insists that the candidate (from) abroad be part
of a Jewish community (synagogue, usually) there for up to a year after
conversion before they’ll recognize his/her status. A Supreme Court decision outlawed the waiting period of one year that they came up with . . .  but
when we tried to get converts registered after the decision, Ministry officials
told us: ‘The court outlawed a 365-day waiting period, but that doesn’t mean
we can’t require 364 days.’ “
Didn’t I write in a previous column something about the persistence and power of bureaucracy? Sorry to say that “I told you so,” but I did tell you so.
The sky is never completely rosy when viewed with Jewish eyes. Just today I received a note from a leftist activist that included this:
“This is sad… but if Israel continues on its course, it will see more like this
Subject: StandWithUs Northwest Alert! Olympia Food Coop Boycotts Israeli Products

The people who are organizing this will not get my help, but I won’t pretend to speak for the rest of you. 

And for those of you who see salvation in the various flotillas for the unfortunates people of Gaza
“Senior Palestinian health officials say that a large proportion of the aid received from Arab countries is useless. It includes medications beyond their legal dates, and equipment that does not work. “We could use only about 30 percent of what we received as aid.”

It appears that the Jewish people have survived aggression from the Turkey government, yet another blast from the United Nations and NGOs, plus an uptick in nastiness from Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative Jews. Given that record, I suspect that we will manage the attack launched by the Olympia Food Coop. 

I am not so optimistic about the chances of Gazans with their friends.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University
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