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May 16, 1986 - Image 36

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-05-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

36

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Friday, May 16, 1986

1 000000000000000000000000000000000

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onetime steady diet of morale-
building broadcasts, pioneer
music and public-service an-
nouncements has been replaced
by adversarial interview pro-
grams and talk shows on which
politicians are no longer accorded
the kid-gloves treatment they re-
ceived in the fifties and sixties.
Newspapers have become more
reliable too. On the eve of the
1973 war, a number of military
correspondents, aware of the pos-
sibility of an Arab sneak attack,
censored themselves at the re-
quest of the army. Many of these
reporters never forgave them-
selves for this dereliction of duty,
and the tone of reporting in Israel
since the war has been more
skeptical and aggressive.
Moreover, in recent years the
number of newspapers and mag-
azines has grown in Israel, and
they provide the public with a
more critical and honest view of
the country than was available
before the mid-seventies.
This view often creates the im-
pression that Israel is less ethical
or enlightened than it once was.
In fact, "bad news" is simply
more available today, and Is-
raelis more aware of it. In 1953,
for example, the government or-
dered a reprisal raid on the Jor-
danian village of Kibiyah. The
raid, which was in retaliation for
Arab terrorism, ended in tragedy
when dozens of Arab civilians
were killed in what Arik Sharon,
the commander of the operation
later called a mistake. But at the
time, Prime Minister David Ben
Gurion simply lied to the country
and Kne§set, claiming that the
raid had been carried out not by
the army but by a group. of
enraged Israeli villagers. This
transparent nonsense was ac-
cepted by the parliamentary op-
position as well as by the press,
and most of the country had no
idea what had actually happened.
An incident like Kibiyah could
happen again today. Israel is, as
it was then, in a state of war with
much of the Arab world, and in
wartime such things occasionally
take place. But it is wholly im-
possible that an Israeli Prime
Minister could get away with
lying about it to the country, and
it is doubtful that one would try.
The massacre at the Sabra and
Shatilla refugee camps, which
was carried out by Lebanese
Christians, and for which Israel
bore only an indirect and unin-
tended responsibility, resulted in
mass demonstrations and a com-
mission of inquiry. More re-
cently, the killing of two captured
terrorists by the Israeli Army
was exposed by the local press;
despite government efforts to
hush up the affair. Many Israelis,
recalling the absence of such re-
ports in earlier times, mistakenly
conclude that incidents of this
kind didn't take place in the good
old days; but those who were in-
volved in security affairs know
better. In the Israel of the
eighties, information is no longer
the province of a few trusted in-
siders.
One of the main arguments for
Israel's presumed decline is the
growth of orthodox influence —
and religious coercion — that is

supposed to have taken place in
recent years. To make this point,
however, means to ignore his-
tory. The central elements of or-
thodoxy in Israeli life were all
put into place in the late forties
and early fifties. The Chief Rab-
binate and its control of personal
status through religious courts;
the separate orthodox school sys-
tem; military exemptions for
yeshiva students and religious
girls; sabbath and holiday blue
laws; the' tradition of buying off
religious parties; and rabbinical
involvement in Israeli citizenship
laws have all been features of Is-
raeli life from the very begin-
ning. The gains that the orthodox
agenda has made in recent years
have, in fact, been marginal and
largely symbolic. The law against
El Al flights on the Sabbath, for
example, is now enforced, but a
number of other airlines still fly
in and out of Israel on Saturdays
and holidays. It is more difficult
to get an abortion than it once
was, but still not very hard. For
the average Israeli, the degree of
outside religious interference in
daily life is no more or less than it
was twenty-five or thirty years
ago.
What has changed is the public
perception. Orthodox Jews, like
Sephardim and others outside the
pioneer orbit, are more visible
today and more self-confident. In
Jerusalem, this self-assurance is
sometimes translated into acts of
ultra-orthodox extremism; but it
is equally true that in Tel Aviv,
the country's largest city, an op-
posite trend toward seculariza-
tion has been in evidence for a
decade or more.
Many oldtime Israelis deplore
the decline in the quality of life,
but I must admit that I don't
share this view. As Israel has
become a modern, industrialized
country — and its population has
risen from 650,000 to 4 million in
less than forty years — a good
deal of intimacy has been lost.
Moreover, the elite no longer con-
trols the nation's culture,
entertainment and tastes. This
is, of course, a great loss for the
veterans, but not necessarily for
the rest of us.
Naturally, modernization has
not been an unmixed blessing.
There is, for example, more crime
in Israel today than there once
was (although cities remain, by
American standards, extremely
safe).
But there are also better res-
taurants, newer films, bigger and
more comfortable apartments, far
more automobiles, a greater
variety of music, theater and art,
more universities, better sports
facilities, more efficient public
services — and more tolerance of
non conformity. In short, Israel
has made the same trade-off that
other modern societies have
made. Many Israelis deplore the
materialism, fast-buck mentality
and selfishness that have re-
placed the old pioneer austerity,
but not many would want to go
back to the good old days.
Few would deny that Israel is
more democratic, open, sophisti-
cated, efficient and, for all its
economic difficulties, prosperous

Continued on Page 38

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