JERUSALEM — There are few news stories that can consistently compete for drama with the long-running government crisis here, what with its themes of betrayal, greed, secret deals, name-calling and perpetually colliding egos. But in feeling around the innards of Israel's numerous newspapers, a few gems turn up.
Light news is not the stuff of some newspapers; Haaretz, a left-center daily, wouldn't be caught dead publishing an article on an earring that induces diet-free weight loss, which ran recently in Yediot Aharonot, the country's largest daily.
Often, there seems to be little room for anything but the day's news, there being so many pressing issues in the air: politics, the Palestinian uprising, the economy, the influx of Soviet Jews, secular-religious disputes. What space is left over often goes to features pertaining to Jewish identity (how to make a kosher home, the history of one battle or another in the building of the Israeli state).
Still, when the offbeat story pops up, Israeli newspapers sometimes run variations on them for days, delighting in polemics over the most minor issues. The more bizarre the twists and turns, the better.
For a few days last month, it seems that everybody forgot about the politicians to concentrate on Rita and her dress. Rita is one of the country's most popular singers--and is as well-known for her figure as her voice.
Isolated in the Middle East, Israel likes to feel itself part of the world at large and especially the Western world, so there was great anticipation for Rita's appearance in a recent European song festival, to be held in Yugoslavia.
But wait, newspapers cautioned. What about that skimpy red dress she likes to wear? Won't that put off the judges? Won't it reflect badly on Israel?
The debate went on right up to contest time. The singer's manager promised she would not wriggle. "Rita will adopt a more static posture," he pledged. The dress plans were kept secret.
Finally, Rita sang, wearing a long black skirt made of strips that parted at the slightest breeze. She came in 18th out of 22 contestants. For days afterward, the argument raged: Was it the dress, the song or anti-Israeli judges that caused the debacle?
The visit of a celebrity to Israel from abroad sometimes causes great excitement. Israel is small, so it's not hard to make a splash here. When someone like Diego Maradona, the Argentine soccer star, arrives, it's a major event. Israel is soccer crazy.
Maradona came with his teammates to play a game with Israel's national team as a warm-up for the World Cup matches in Italy. The game drew less attention than his visit to the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site.
It seems that four years ago, just before Mexico hosted the last World Cup, Maradona made a similar visit. He prayed and put a message to God in the crevices of the Wall, then went off to star in Argentina's tournament victory. So he came again this year and left five messages in the Wall. He also prayed at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher supposedly built over Christ's tomb, presumably for good measure.
The dual visits prompted the English-language Jerusalem Post to speculate that if Egypt or the United Arab Emirates win this year's cup, Maradona might travel to Mecca next time around.
News in one place in Israel can easily set off a copycat event somewhere else, it seems. Not long ago, residents in the Negev Desert were campaigning against joint U.S.-Israeli construction of a Voice of America broadcast tower. Among their complaints were expected health hazards caused by radiation emanating from the tower. Headaches, literally, were expected.
Well, over in Givat Yam, residents began to complain of headaches and dizziness, from a telephone transmission tower they want to get rid of. Tests are being carried out.
Stories of squashed Jewish-Muslim love affairs appear on occasion. Recently, one detailed the romance of an anonymous Palestinian woman and Israeli secret agent in Lebanon. Another detailed a sordid affair between an Israeli occupation soldier and a Palestinian woman in the West Bank. She said they were in love. He said she was loose.
Kids and rare births also get a lot of attention. Just the other day, a woman gave birth to a boy conceived from a frozen embryo and--here's the twist--he is the twin of his 2-year-old sister who was conceived from the same group of eggs.
Although there are no equivalents of the National Enquirer here, with headlines like these (from Yediot Aharonot), there isn't much need:
MY HUSBAND LOST ME AT CARDS
"My husband, the gambler, had no money left and so decided to use me as a wager in his card game," claims a wife demanding alimony in a Tel Aviv court.
"After my husband 'lost' me, he forced me to devote myself to one of his friends--this in place of paying 2000 shekels. After I refused, he hit me until the blood flowed."
Or this one:
PRISONER COVERED HIMSELF IN GARBAGE --BUT CAUGHT AT MUNICIPAL DUMP