Plans and counter-plans
Hebrew media review

Plans and counter-plans

Budget cuts to yeshivas canceled; soldiers might operate seaports in case of strike; and, as always, the Syrian question

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Haifa Port, 2009. (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Haifa Port, 2009. (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Sunday morning’s papers are full of looming clashes and various ideas about how to deal with them: imminent showdowns between the government and ultra-Orthodox over education budgets and universal conscription, confrontation with Israel’s port workers over planned reforms, and Jerusalem’s ongoing dilemma regarding the situation in Syria.

There will be no reduction in the budget of the ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, Haaretz‘s lead headline claims, saying Finance Minister Yair Lapid canceled all the planned cuts.

Schools that don’t teach core subjects such as English and math were supposed to have their budget slashed by half. However, according to the report, a legal position stating that schools would be shut down and students provided with no alternative has nixed the proposal.

Lapid says the budget cut will happen in six months, by which time an alternative school system will be set up by the Education Ministry, but there are many questions about the likelihood of such an initiative coming to fruition so quickly, the report says.

Maariv leads with quotes by an unnamed Israeli officer telling London’s Times that, when it comes to Syria, Israel prefers “the devil we know over the demons we can only imagine,” but most of its front page is dedicated to the fight over Israel’s natural gas.

Two groups took to the streets on Saturday night, the daily reports. One protested the general economic policy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Lapid; the other demonstrated against the planned allocation of the large natural gas reserves discovered off Israel’s coast, calling on the government to stop its export and instead channel the valuable resource for the country’s benefit for the sake of “energy independence.”

The results of the massive protests from the summer of 2011 can be seen all over, writes Maariv columnist Aviv Lavi, challenging those who say nothing’s changed since half a million people took to the streets. Formerly no one in Israel cared about the export of natural resources, he writes, but now you can’t do anything “without being attacked by social groups, environmentalists, loud MKs and angry demonstrators.”

Israel’s approach to Syrian President Bashar Assad leads Israel Hayom‘s front page and dominates the first few inside pages, with the story from the Times as the main headline.

According to the officer who spoke to the British daily, Assad is far from ideal as far as Israel is concerned; still, he provides a stable, secular dictatorship which is preferable to a radical Islamic, pro-terrorism takeover.

In a second article, the daily highlights Assad’s weekend interview with the Argentinian Clarin newspaper, in which he claimed Israel was aiding the rebels and directing their attacks against military targets. Yet another article reports on Jerusalem’s preference for Syria to remain a secular dictatorship rather than undergo a revolution resulting in an increased presence of extreme Islamic terror groups.

In Israel Hayom, the anonymous IDF intelligence officer who leaked Israel’s stance to the Times is heavily criticized in an op-ed by former minister Yossi Beilin. It’s the job of the government, not officers, to speak on behalf of Israel, Beilin writes after listing a number of recent cases in which officers revealed intelligence analysis and policy preferences to the public or press. Besides the feeling that “the tail is wagging the dog” when officers do things their superiors are supposed to do, he charges, “Israel is unnecessarily embarrassed.”

The bottom line, Beilin writes, is that “the intelligence people need to prepare information for the decision makers, and, if the decision makers wish it, they’re the ones who will step up and announce what they want to announce.”

Yedioth Ahronoth highlights the planned seaport reforms aimed at lowering the costs of importing goods.

The state anticipates a strike in light of its plan to open a third port and is planning ways to neutralize it, the paper reports. Among the options being mulled are the hiring of port workers from foreign countries and even using soldiers from mechanical crews who can operate heavy machinery.

“There is a plan for peace and a plan for war,” Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz tells the paper, asserting that “the reform will happen.” Besides practical moves, the government is assessing its legal options in case the port workers barricade themselves inside the ports, the paper reports.

Maariv also features another imminent showdown between Lapid and the ultra-Orthodox communities, reporting on the apparent outcome of the Peri Committee, a ministerial group tasked with formulating a new conscription law for the ultra-Orthodox.

According to the report, special Hesder yeshivas will be established for the ultra-Orthodox community, adopting the model long used by the national religious population. Yeshiva students will enter a five-year program, spending two years in the army and three years studying. A certain number of students (the paper says 1,800) will receive exemptions from military service and be allowed to study instead. Moreover, the committee will recommend sanctions to be wielded against draft dodgers.

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