So What if They Said That?

Israel's political-media repertoire, several topics reliably yield predictable reactions. A politician can pull out one of these topics any time he needs some attention.

Israel's political-media repertoire, several topics reliably yield predictable reactions. A politician can pull out one of these topics any time he needs some attention. Two of the most popular such topics are the Israeli Arabs and beneficiaries of the Law of Return, i.e. the new immigrants. Both, not coincidentally, are minorities.

Take, for example, Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman. When he feels a need for media attention, he pulls out from his arsenal the subject of the Israeli Arabs. The discussion makes use of the word "collaborators" and guarantees him an orchestrated media uproar during the dry seasons between Aswan and Tehran. The to-do, by the way, is limited to the Hebrew-language media, as the Russian-language media sees nothing unusual in such statements.

The situation is different regarding the Law of Return. As soon as Meir Sheetrit was upgraded to the job of interior minister, he hastened to declare that the Law of Return must be altered. Even if we ignore the fact that his statement was accompanied by erroneous data about the number of non-Jewish immigrants, this is still an irresponsible deed. Less than a day later, new Absorption Minister Jacob Edery spoke of crucial changes to the Law of Return.

This subject did not get the Hebrew-language media worked up. The veteran citizenry is accustomed to some internal rhythm whereby the Law of Return is placed on the public agenda and then discarded in the blink of an eye. But the Russian-language media was very upset.

This is what these two ostensibly different topics - Israeli Arabs and the beneficiaries of the Law of Return - have in common: Both affect the image of the state and both deal with the fate of human beings.

Surprisingly, the Russian-language press swooped down on the statements by the two ministers from the ruling party. One such statement may be excused as a Freudian slip; two already look like a campaign.

There was, of course, no campaign here, just the desire of two ministers to improve their political status and be promoted to the status of philosopher as well. But politics is not kind to philosophers. Kadima leaders were flooded by innumerable telephone calls from Russian speakers, demanding an explanation.

In weekend interviews in the Russian-language press, Edery claimed his words had been taken out of context, and Sheetrit made the headlines: "I have no problem with the aliyah [immigration] from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)."

But for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who anyway has zero support among the Russian-speaking community, that was not enough. To be on the safe side, Olmert invited the Kadima activists in the Russian community to a special meeting 10 days from now at which he is expected to respond to the statements of his ministers. That is also the background to Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann's announcement that non-Jews will be allowed to wed here in civil marriages. This initiative, long in the making, was supposed to be publicized during the Knesset's summer recess, a more convenient time for controversial initiatives. Its publication was moved up to minimize the damages of the statements regarding the Law of Return.

This diversionary tactic had only limited success. The agreement between Friedmann and Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar on civil marriage is not exactly arousing enthusiasm among the Russian-speaking public. It is a classic case of too little, too late. After all, before the elections Minister Roni Bar-On promised that the expanded "partnership agreement" was already on the shelf, and only had to be taken down and dusted off. The apathetic response is a combination of disappointment and a total lack of confidence in what the government says. But the main lesson to be learned from these stories is a reminder: Experiments on human beings are forbidden. One person's headline is another person's life, whether Jew or Arab.