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July 7, 2012
NY Times goes over-the-top
If you pick up the July 6 edition of the New York Times and turn to the international news section, you will find a Jerusalem dispatch with dire forebodings that Israel is about to fracture into separate ''tribal" groups.
Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren sounds the alarm at the top of the article that there is a "growing cleavage among its tribes," that Prime Minister Netanyahu's governing coalition is "on the brink of collapse," that a "civil war" is about to break out between "two cultures, two civilizations." ("Israeli Identity Is at the Heart of a Debate On Service" page A4).
What's going on? And is Israel really in the throes of social and political disintegration, as Rudoren suggests? Well, there's no question but that the government faces a major challenge following a High Court ruling that voided a law that had exempted ultra-Orthodox youths from service in the military. To comply with the court's decision, the government has to come up with some kind of universal service solution by the end of the month, with inclusion of ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis.
At this stage, Netanyahu is buffeted between allies in the religious sector that still cling to the old ways and the Kadima centrist party, which recently joined his coalition and insists on prompt and strict adherence to the court's views. Can Bibi pull it off? The Israeli commentariat is divided.
Rudoren is quick to embrace the views of the ultra-pessimists. She consults Aluf Benn, editor of the far-left Haaretz newspaper, who sees everything in black and white terms: when it comes to Israel as a Jewish democratic state, the Arab would do away with the Jewish part and the ultra-Orthodox would do away with the democratic part; "they respect the authority of the rabbis," he opines.
And tellingly, Benn is the only newspaper maven to be consulted by Rudoren.
But then something strange happens midway in Rudoren's account - a sudden, notable turn away from all the sky-is-falling predictions to more than a few signs that point to compromise and gradual narrowing of "tribal" differences in Israel.
Suddenly, readers are told that last year, about 17 percent of ultra-Orthodox youths joined the Army and an additional 14 percent of the ultra-Orthodox and 8 percent of Arab citizens signed up for civilian service. So when you add it up, it turns out three out of every 10 ultra-Orthodox youths already are in the IDF or perform public service. Which suggests that it's not all stark black and white divisions.
But there's more . Much farther down in the article, readers are told that Netanyahu met with Shaul Mofaz, the Kadima leader, and other party leaders "to begin hammering out a compromise." There also are signs that "gaps between their positions could be bridged." And that the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party "indicated a willingness to accept the principles" of a panel report that recommended requiring IDF endlistment or public service for Arabs and ultra-Orthodox youths.
And the trend is positive -- not negative. In the next-to-last paragraph, readers learns that last year, 1,282 ultra-Orthodox youths joined the IDF and another 1,090 signed up for civil service, compared with a total of 305 who enlisted overall in2007. And on the Arab side, public service increased nearly tenfold, to 2,400 from 250 in 2007.
Leading Rudoren to conclude with the optimistic view of a non-despairing analyst that "the IDF will secure the Israeli society as one society in a crucial way. This is a mission for the IDF, to help keep the cohesion of our society."
Quite a 180-degree turnaround - from Israel going to hell in a basket to the prospect of repairing social fractures and keeping the country unified.
In sum, this is not a single article, but wo separate ones - the lead-off one with its ultra-alarmist warnings, and the buried one that holds out promise and hope.
Guess which one Rudoren and the Times want readers to absorb.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers
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