Monday, November 07, 2011

The ultra-Orthodox punching bag

Dr. Haim Shine

Last week, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy expressed harsh sentiments against the ultra-Orthodox. According to Halevy, the radicalization of the ultra-Orthodox community is a greater threat to Israel than Iran. His statements continue a painful and disturbing trend of hatred leveled at the ultra-Orthodox from left-wing liberal circles. There is a tendency to blame the ultra-Orthodox for every ill, ache and pain in Israeli society. Over just two decades, the ultra-Orthodox have become the punching bag for a violent and decadent society, which mercilessly beats anyone who dresses differently or adopts an unfamiliar lifestyle. Yet the ultra-Orthodox are much worse off than other minorities in Israel. Arabs in Israel have a wall to protect them, both in the Supreme Court and among the Israeli Left, in the face of any effort to infringe on their rights. Israelis are willing to lay on barbed wire to protect a few Palestinian olive trees. For every other sub-culture in Israeli society there is some protection for freedom of expression, ideological pluralism and individual rights. Only the ultra-Orthodox have no one to care for them. Their honor is trampled in the streets, evil slander is often voiced and sludge is hurled at them in unthinkable ways.

Israeli society contains a violent and dangerous element that arouses discord and hatred in order to consolidate a majority based on false unity. Secular versus religious, veteran Israelis versus new immigrants, Ashkenazi versus Sephardi, urbanites versus those who live outside of central Israel, Jews versus Arabs and the list goes on. The Israeli tribal flame is heating up, burning hotter as it focuses on the weak and different. When we hate others, we love ourselves and our kind more. From time to time, the object of our hatred is replaced, but the hatred itself remains. Israeli society increasingly and systematically delegitimizes the ultra-Orthodox. We have a plethora of stigmas and anti-Semitic stereotypes that would not shame the German propaganda machine and that we hurl at the ultra-Orthodox public without batting an eye.

Hatred for the ultra-Orthodox has garnered such admiration that Israeli students traveling to Poland have said that they feel closer to Muslims in Europe than to the ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem. Timely propaganda has caused them to forget that just a few generations ago, their forefathers looked and behaved exactly as the ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak do today.

It is true that among the ultra-Orthodox, as with any other society, there are people whose behavioral norms deserve condemnation, people whose actions stain the entirety of ultra-Orthodox society. But collective denigration, without basis, is directed specifically toward the ultra-Orthodox. There is simply no foundation for collective blame, only malice and wickedness. The Jewish people have suffered, for thousands of years, from the contagion of epithets; they need to be extremely sensitive to applying such names to their own people as they might any other person who is different.

It is important to remember that beyond our differences, we are still one people. We are a small nation which cannot allow itself to be filled with alienation and hatred. One who instills hatred in a child should not be surprised when one day that child hates him. The hatred bubbles up, and it does not know how to differentiate between the just and the evil, between good and bad.

The ultra-Orthodox population is the Jewish people's insurance certificate. Israelis are not everywhere, yet in every sub-culture to which he or she is connected, he or she can be sure that their sons and their son's sons will continue to affiliate as Jews. From the Himalayas to San Francisco, by way of Israel and Europe, you can find many Israelis who have abandoned their Jewish heritage. The percentage of assimilation in the U.S. is frightening. Judaism en masse is experiencing the quiet kiss of death. Those who feel Judaism is important must honor and appreciate the ultra-Orthodox; they must protect and safeguard them just as one does with a life insurance card. The ultra-Orthodox public is the insurance policy for the continuing existence of the Jewish people. Even when the premium goes up, one does not forego life insurance.

These days, in the face of constant existential threats from the north, south and east, it is important to remember that we are brothers. Additional obstacles await us, but only if we are united will be able to deal with the difficulties ahead.

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