But first, some introductory remarks: Ha'Aretz is the only truly serious newspaper in Israel. There are two others ones not considered really tabloidic, but they have ridiculous practices such as back-cover photos of good-looking females picking flowers with inane captions, and generally offer more color than insight. Ha'Aretz is decidedly elitistic, avowedly intellectual, and is accordingly the least popular of the three major dailies. Herewith, I bring three links to Ha'Aretz articles from the past four days, in English, for the benefit of non Hebrew speakers. Hebrew speakers should be able to find the Hebrew articles easily enough.
On to the news, then. Brace yourselves:
- 1.16 Million Israelis Live Below Poverty Line -- Israel's total population is close to 6 million. This means that almost twenty percent of the population are poor. The poverty line is defined as 50 percent of median available income. Out of this 1.16M figure, just over 500,000 are children. Five hundred thousand children are poor. Poverty is one of the chief ailments of Israeli society, but the 2002 budget introduced by the government makes no moves toward eliminating some of that poverty. There is no active opposition to speak of, so no one speaks for the poor. Actually, few people have done more than protest feebly about this even when there was some semblance of an opposition in parliament.
- Education Ministry Admits To Bias In Funding -- The Israeli Ministry of Education, forced by the High Court of Justice (perhaps the only institution in the State of Israel that retains my faith and feeds my desperate hopes for this place), finally admitted that it has been allocating funds unequally, based on sectorial (mostly ultra-orthodox Jewish parties) and political agenda. This has been going on for years, and was taken as fact by most of the public, but now it's finally out in the open: the Ministry of Education is run crookedly.
Limor Livnat, a vulgar, brutish woman, is our Minister (ministress?) of Education, but it's certainly not because of anything she did. Rather, she perpetuated the existing tradition and tacit understanding, that whoever controls the Ministry of Education (and in the past twenty-five years that Ministry was in secular hands for only two years or so) gets to distribute budgets for his favorite halls of indoctrination and parasitic organizations with dubious agenda.
- Secretary of Teachers Union Arrested for Suspected Fraud and Bribe-taking -- combining the previous two themes of money and education, this news item was a confusing one to react to. On the one hand, I am inexpressibly outraged: the head figure identified with Israeli teachers contrived to obtain an academic degree (which he lacked until then) in the obvious interest of getting increased pay (public sector salaries in Israel are unconditionally raised when an employee achieves an academic degree -- a stupid practice, but nobody questions it), and cheated by submitted two papers he did not write. Can it get any more unethical? Yes, it can. Not only did he abuse the ethics of academic education, but he also received his degree without paying for tuition! I call it accepting a bribe. Can you call it anything else?
But on the other hand, I'm not surprised at all. Not really. I've followed Ben Shabbat's numerous (and vocal) public appearances over the past five years, and my impression was that, while he truly does care about the wages teachers are paid (which are an insult to them and a huge blemish on the State of Israel, which fancies itself a democracy but spend less on education than any European or North American country [these being the countries it compares itself to]), he does not seem to care one whit about the quality of education he and his colleagues inflict on Israeli children and youth, or about fighting the MoE for more budgets for any purpose other than teacher salaries. I am not surprised to learn that he is a crook, a selfish and mediocre hypocrite not above patently criminal behavior.
And what did the Teachers Union say about all this? Come closer, let me whisper in your ear: nothing whatsoever.
These three items (culled from the news of only the past four days) upset me very much. The greatest frustration of all is that no solution or improvement is in sight in these issues of poverty, education, and quality government. Not while the pestilent Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on, its bloody tolls exacted day by unrelenting day.
So bloodshed weaseled into this entry after all. But that's the point I was making, see? Nothing can be of anything more than passing interest, yesterday's news, in the Israeli public discourse (such as it is), as long as the conflict is not resolved. There is no public debate over the appropriateness of the 2002 budget; there is no public debate about the public schools curriculum, and about the dire problems the ailing education system is grappling with; there is no public debate about the overwhelming poverty and how to curb it and help people help themselves.
That's not quite true, actually. There are debates over these things. Too little, too obscure, but they do exist. And they are constantly drowned out by hysterical howls of war and threats of terror and annihilation from both sides ("both sides?" I hear you wonder, "are the Palestinians threatening to annihilate the State of Israel?" --yes: listen to the PA's radio or television broadcasts. Read their grammar school textbooks. Annihilation is promised and foretold not just of the State of Israel, but of the Israelis who inhabit it as well.), and so it goes, and so it goes, we go round and round and round in the circle game.
I think I'll go bang my head against a wall or something, to feel less futile.
 agenda already is plural, you know.