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April 18, 2003 - Image 34

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-04-18

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Striking Against Themselves


must confess that only a couple
of weeks ago, I had a feeling of
great elation that the number of
tourists in Israel is so small. I
would have been ashamed to have
more of them witness Israel's side-
walks and public squares in all cities
piled high with garbage and the mis-
cellaneous rubbish that normally gets
collected regularly and carted away to
municipal dumps out of town or to
recycling facilities. This as a result of a
strike by municipal employees.
I would have been ashamed to have
them hear a twice-repeated threat by
the Histadrut to shut down the coun-
try completely by calling a general
strike that was scheduled to close all
government offices, banks, postal serv-
ices, air and sea ports and severely
hamper the operation of public trans-
portation, health services and in effect
all aspects of normal life. How could I
explain to visitors from abroad that a
man whose political party managed in
the last election to send only three of
its members to the 120-seat Knesset,
was nevertheless able to exercise dicta-


Carl Alpert is a U.S. native who made

aliyah in 1952. He is former bead of
the Zionist Organization of America's
education department. His e-mail
address is alpert@techunix.technion.ac.il

BESSER from page 33





rewritten by its successor. The new
guidelines include warnings to school .
districts that they will jeopardize their
government funding if they prevent
"constitutionally protected" prayer in
public schools — a somewhat
ambiguous term that religious conser-
vatives around the country are expect-
ed to exploit.
Missing, too, is language preventing
student prayer before captive audiences.
Jewish groups have little input.
"They propose a rule, they open it
up for comment, we comment — and
they do what they want," said a
prominent Jewish church-state advo-
cate. "Then you go right to litigation."
But litigation is expensive; the new
administration thrust means lawsuits
in wholesale lots.
A sweeping Supreme Court ruling
against key pillars of the charitable
choice concept could effectively thwart
the. administration push, but that
could take years. By then, the Court
could be far more conservative than
the current one, which is already nar-

tofial powers that could paralyze the
For the moment, there is a tempo-
rary truce as the Histadrut, the
monopolistic labor union, engages in
negotiations with the Ministry of
Finance over plans to rescue the econ-
omy from disaster. Amir Peretz, the
Histadrut dictator, promises that
unless he gets his way in opposition to
the government reforms, the threat of
a general strike will yet be exercised.
What does the Histadrut object to?
In the face of a mounting government
deficit and a general shrinkage in the
economy as a result of world condi-
tions, the Ministry of Finance propos-
es, among other steps, a reduction in
the number of government employees,
a figure that has become bloated over
the years. Obviously, this becomes a
popular cause for Histadrut objection.
But strangely, the Histadrut itself,
mired down with debts of 1.6 billion
shekels, now seeks to dismiss over 300
staff members, almost a third of its
own employees.
In the meantime, it has been
charged that employee pension funds,
which are supposed to be sacrosanct
in protection of the future of the
retired workers, have been ruthlessly
looted by the Histadrut to cover the
current operating expenses of the
union, including the yet-to-be-

revealed salaries of its own top
pressures were often effective.
But who is harmed or threat-
The government proposals
ened by a general strike in
for a reform of the economy,
Israel? Not the bosses, but the
calling also for reductions in
people themselves. In effect,
welfare payments to the aged
the Histadrut program harms
and to the handicapped, are
the immediate interests of the
indeed painful. The program
general population. Garbage
also provides for general
on the streets? Who suffers?
economies all along the line in
Citizens who must turn to
all government operations. Yet,
offices for various
these are also accompanied by
the offices
steps seeking to encourage
closed. More people will be
investment capital, which
thrown out of work because
would lead to a boost in employment.
the closure of the seaports will halt
exports. Who does the Histadrut
think it is hurting? There may have
Rising Tension
been a time in Israel's early history
Through the years, Israel has become
when the Histadrut played a distin-
increasingly a welfare state in which
guished role. Since then, it has appar-
the jobless find it more advantageous
ently lost its sense of direction.
to live on government unemployment
There was only one bright light in
payments rather than to go to work.
the sanctions recently imposed by
At the same time, powerful union
municipal workers. The public was
protection has set up areas, like the
delighted that among those on strike
Electric Company, among others,
were the officers who usually hand
where the employees have managed to
out parking tickets.
gain princely salary scales and fight
An international coalition has
any effort at limitations.
struck halfway around the world to
Threat of a general strike is very
unseat a dictatorship that was seen as
strange. As we recall, strikes were an
a threat. Some day, the citizens of
effective weapon used by downtrod-
Israel will awake to the threat of what
den labor to extract better conditions
seems like an internal dictatorship
from their employers by hurting the
that for too long has been able to
income and profits of the bosses. Such
throttle the national economy. ❑

rowly divided on church-state issues.
Jewish church-state groups face
another big challenge because of last
year's Supreme Court ruling affirming
the constitutionality of Cleveland's
school voucher program.
Already, voucher advocates in more
than two dozen states are working to
revoke so-called "Blaine
Amendments," which prohibit the use
of state money to support sectarian
schools. Once that barrier is removed,
Jewish activists expect a flood of
voucher proposals, and once again,
Jewish church-state groups will be
stretched thin.
But voucher programs are still down
the road, and there is one huge obsta-
cle in the way: the epidemic of state
budget crises, which means few states
will be able to afford new education
spending of any kind.
Much more immediate is the Bush
administration's shift to executive
action to enact major parts of its faith-
based initiative — a shift applauded
by Orthodox groups but regarded as
the biggest breach of the church-state
wall yet by liberal Jewish activists. ❑

HALPERN from page 33

invading Israeli army. What happened
to the great Iraqi army?
More than anything else, the myth
of Arab military strength was
And because that great myth has
been destroyed — quickly and with
relatively little resistance — things are
different today for the Palestinians on
the ground. Now, they have to take
the United States — and by extension
Israel — much more seriously.
The other despots and tyrants in the
region are quaking. Their regimes are
afraid, even those regimes traditionally
more closely aligned with the United
Syria is petrified that they are next in
line. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are
afraid America will insist that they
break down their class system and
establish a more representative system
of goverriance. Libya knows the United
States has a score to settle with them.
Egypt understands that the United
States is displeased because they are not
controlling their extremists.

After Saddam and Syria, the next
biggest loser in this war is Turkey — a
country that has made the biggest mis-
take of its modern history. It will take
the country's leaders a long time to
convince Congress that Turkey truly is
our friend and not, as it appeared in
the context of this war, a neater, clean-
er substitute for fundamentalist Islam.
And then come the Palestinians.
They are the next biggest losers. They
now know that no one will come to
their protection. They now know that
they must, for the first time, take
responsibility for their own actions
and for the realization of their dreams.
It is hard, but they know, because
they have been shown in no uncertain
terms, that if they do not stop perpe-
trating acts of terror, they will get
The Palestinian Authority and all
Palestinians now understand that the
United States is not just mouthing
hollow terms. The United States and
her friend and ally Israel are insisting
on two things: reform and the end of
It's only a matter or time.

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