Good for BO. It may not be pretty, for those who think politics should be like a learned discussion among angels. But fair and decent for those of us who recognize that politics is like a sausage factory. We may not like to watch it in action, but the results are worth serving to the family.
I do not know what is in all those pages that the House endorsed, there is still the Senate having to do something or other, it's too early to know the immediate and long range costs, and what will pass through subsequent steps in the bureaucracies that will define the details and the courts that consider appeals. But it moves the US toward what other democracies achieved during the 20th century. For all of them the 21st century consists of dealing with costs, deciding which expensive treatments and medications should be available within their basic plans, and which available only to those who pay more. There are no final victories where death is the ultimate enemy.
Meanwhile, in this little socialist paradise a narrow view of ancient law has set us back. Coalition politics put an ultra-Orthodox rabbi at the head of the Health Ministry, and he has won a government decision to build the new emergency room at the Ashkelon hospital a half kilometer from the rest of the hospital. Ancient bones were uncovered while excavating for the construction where the emergency room should be built, right alongside the hospital.
It is a matter of dispute in Jewish law as to whether human remains can be moved for the sake of a construction that will benefit the public. This rabbi has taken an extreme position, and said he would resign (and threaten the coalition) if the government did not go along with him. "It's only a matter of money," he said. Critics insist that it is not only money, but building an emergency room far from the physicians in various departments and operating rooms that must have easy access from the emergency room.
Articles beginning on the front page of Ha'aretz are headlined, " Government Necrophilia," "Extreme Lack of Reason," "Dark Decision," and "Burning Torch." The cartoon shows a helicopter holding the emergency room above the graves (so as to not contaminate the room or to disturb the dead), while personnel trundle patients from the room to the hospital, and a religious aide asks the rabbi if the helicopter will work on the Sabbath.
Another issue, no less problematic in religious law and modern public relations, concerns the nature of the bones. Archaeologists have said that the style of burial is not Jewish. Perhaps they are pagan from the time when the Philistines dominated the region of modern Ashkeloon. Remember that it was Ashkelon where Samson did his thing (Judges 13-16). His shiksa was a Philistine.
Like the movement of graves, the differential treatment of Jews and Gentiles (live and dead) is a matter of dispute in Jewish law. The rabbi at the head of the Health Ministry is willing to change his mind if convinced that the graves are not Jewish.
The specialist in religious law who commented in one media discussion pondered the blot on Israel's reputation if the emergency room is built where it should be only because those are goyishe bones.
The vote in the government was 11 to 10. The forces of light are close. The secular, and even some of the religious media, is mounting a campaign in behalf of reason. The professional serving as director general of the Health Ministry has resigned. Health professionals are in full mobilization. No surprise that the prime minister has not spoken clearly on the issue. Currently he is in Washington dealing with bigger fish. Perhaps he will take a moment to congratulate the president on health reform. Can we hope that the president will speak about the emergency room in Ashkelon along with apartments in Jerusalem?
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at March 21, 2010 10:21 PM
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem