Bernard Avishai writes about the steady deterioration of Israel's infrastructure despite respectable economic growth:
In case after case, rightist coalitions have insisted the money was simply not there, and so Western standards for "quality of life" remained out of reach; the country's most responsible citizens have shrugged, more or less, and returned to work, knowing that rates of participation in Israel's workforce is actually among the lowest in OECD nations, around 57%, because of the amount of money supporting ultra-orthodox "learning."
The Carmel brush fires have suddenly given all of this frustration a powerful symbol — a kind of Katrina event. Just who have the governments been serving?
Perhaps the signal moment came on Channel Two Friday evening, when the fires were at their worst, and the newscast's most forceful commentator, Amnon Abramovich, let loose with what a great many in the audience was thinking. "If you are not a settler or a Haredi lobby," he said (I am paraphrasing),"you might as well forget getting anything from the Israeli government in recent years."
I don't know Israel well enough to weigh in on this, but it certainly squares with an awful lot that I've read in recent years. The steady rise of ultra-orthodox influence in Israel seems to be every bit as dangerous to its future as anything happening in the West Bank or Gaza — though the two are so tightly related that I imagine it's hardly possible to speak of them as separate phenomena in the first place.
I'd be interested in comments on this. But for obvious reasons, please be extra careful to keep them civil.