A Matter of Confidence

Anxiety in the wake of the defeat of Tuesdays no-confidence motion. Plus: Secular Jewish study - a contradiction in terms? And Barak v. Netanyahu - a "Maariv" opinion poll. A round up of comment from the Hebrew press.

The government won Tuesdays confidence vote, but everybodys worried. "Haaretzs" June 26 leader said: "Hope has run out that the prime minister can run his government properly, cope with the immense social and political difficulties facing it, and put the country on the right track." Speculation is rife in the press as to whether dismayed Knesset members will eventually muster the numbers, and the courage, to topple Netanyahu.

The concerns are partly practical. The peace process remains frozen, with the Minister of Defence warning that armed violence may break out in the Territories at any moment. On the economic front, many commentators, including "Globes" Itamar Levin, consider that the record of Ariel Sharon, tipped as next Minister of Finance, shows him to be unqualified to nurture an economy in need of deregulation and fiscal discipline. "The last Bolshevik", "Haaretz" called him.

But the anxiety has another aspect. Yosef Lapid wrote in "Maariv" (June 24): "The crisis is not just political, but also, mainly, moral." He mentions several Likud politicians, from former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir downwards, who have expressed lack of faith in Netanyahu. Joel Marcus ("Haaretz" June 24) diagnosed the prime minister as understanding only brute force. Tzachi Hanegbis bully-boy survival tactics as Minister of Justice are, says Marcus, an object lesson in how to deal with him, which "apprehensive parties, including the Arab countries, the Palestinians, and our friends around the world who have grown tired of us, are learning." Akiva Eldar (Haaretz June 26) opines that political brutality strengthens Netanyahus position among "thousands of Likud members, who believe that it is not just the Arabs "who only understand force", but that this also applies to anyone who doesnt belong to their camp, even Jews, even other Likudniks."

Matti Golan (Yediot Aharonot, June 22) suggests, however, that the protests from the likes of Shamir and Benny Begin stem not from distress at the deterioration of our political culture, but from the fact that Netanyahu is actually all too credible. Their real worry is that he is doing what he said he would do - honouring the Oslo agreements, thereby ending their still cherished Greater Israel dream. Golan sees all the complaints that the prime minister is untrustworthy as code for: the prime minister wont practice the deception I want.


Live and Let Learn

This weekend a Festival of Jewish Learning takes place at Kfar Blum. It is open to religious and secular participants, and lecturers include an ideologically diverse array of scholars and rabbis.

A previous "Press Cuttings" item about cross-fertilisation between the religious and secular camps drew this comment from reader Jonathan Horen of Tel Aviv: "I think that if any "fertilization" is taking place within the secular camp, it is happening artificially, within a Petri dish." He quoted avowed atheist Larry Derfner from the Jerusalem Post (June 12): "The secular Judaism movement treats religion - the belief in God - as if it's an optional feature in the Jewish enterprise of the ages. I'm sorry, it's not."

Rabbi Yuval Sharlev, writing in "Haaretz" (June 25), echoes these reservations. He sees a detached, secular approach to Jewish sources as liable to fall short in three respects. It lacks holiness: "an inward spiritual connection to a revelation of the divine" in the books studied. Secondly, it lacks relevance: "the point of studying (Jewish writings) is both to learn and to act". Thirdly, it is without tradition: secular scholars do not, according to Sharlev, see themselves as a further link in the chain stretching from Moses to the rabbis of the Talmud, to the medieval commentators, and down to our own day.

In an interview with "Maariv" (June 22), Professor Rachel Elior, a participant in the Kfar Blum festival, puts the secularist view. "The (Jewish) library," she says, "belongs to us all." Secular affinity to Jewish texts is cultural and ideological. She sees the Psalms, the Zohar (a classic of Jewish mysticism), and modern Hebrew writers such as SY Agnon and Amos Oz as being on a continuum. Whoever is interested in the latter, is also interested in the former "without any religious connection". Early Zionist thinkers, such as labour Zionist AD Gordon, drew inspiration from hassidic texts and practice.

Professor Elior dismisses the idea that religion is taking over the State, saying that, overall, secular influence on the religious camp is far stronger than the reverse influence. And asked whether the whole secular Jewish study movement is not a marginal phenomenon, she replies: "Culture is always created at the margins."


What Do You Know?

A Maariv/Gallup poll, (published June 20), found that, if elections were held immediately, 42% of respondents would vote for Labour Party leader Ehud Barak as prime minister, and 33% for Benjamin Netanyahu. ("Globes" suggested tips political savants Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton might offer Netanyahu. He reportedly took notice.) And if the mysteries of the exchange rate mechanism, the ostensible issue over which Dan Meridor resigned as Minister of Finance, left you scratching your head, you are in good company. Asked whether they support the governments new economic policy, 21% of respondents replied "Yes", 24% "No", and fully 55% - "Dont know".

Your reactions to Press Cuttings are welcome. Please send comments to davidg@globes.co.il




Israels Main Hebrew Dailies:

Readership as % of population
  WeekdayWeekend
Yediot Aharonot  48.4%  62.5%
Maariv  23.5%  33.3%
Haaretz  7.1%  9.8%
Globes  3.5%  2.8%

The above figures are based on a survey carried out by the Israel Advertising Association in November 1996. The survey covered a sample of 2,500 people representing a cross-section of the population of Israel.

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