Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Haredi Protests: Time to Get Mad

I imagine Bloggers have spent the past few nights bent over a thesaurus trying to find synonyms for "outrageous",  "offensive" "despicable" and "over the line" plus a hundred other ways to say horrible, to describe last Saturday night's Haredi demonstration. Men and even children dressed in Holocaust-image striped pajamas and yellow stars gathered to protest what they perceive to be anti-Haredi actions by the Israeli government—the same government which has continually bent over backwards to placate Haredi insistence on not only strict gender separation but also a new fanaticism about seeing any woman at all in public advertising (even Hilary Clinton, who to some might be a "babe" but is, after all, a state politician. The White House justifiably protested Haredi tampering when they cut her photo out of an official White House news release.)

Never mind that Israel's first prime minister Ben Gurion made concessions to a small minority years ago. He'd be rolling over in his grave to see where it led. He was convinced the surviving ultra-Orthodox relic would be extinct soon. They are now ten percent and demographics suggest they will soon be a quarter of the Israeli population. They have become radicalized and politicized to a point of no return. They are angry that the Jerusalem municipality refused their request for gender-separated sidewalks during Sukkot. (Note: the gender separated buses have become a public outcry at last. In a weak compromise the government made them "voluntary" but that is now being challenged even by Haredi women and by various groups of women riding the front of such buses in protest. Thank the goddess.) They are angry that there are photos of real, live women in advertisements on public buses and bus shelters. (Note: In Jerusalem you will not see any women in lingerie, underwear, or immodestly posed in any of those ads.) They are angry that there are any restaurants open on Shabbat in Jerusalem at all. But most of all, they are angry at the success and strength of a modern Zionist country that, in their opinion, doesn't have the right to be at all until the Messiah comes. As long as a strong Zionist, Jewish Israel exists, their belief in the Messiah coming is called into question.

This last Holocaust-mimicry protest finally made the general Israeli public angry, too. Very angry. Angry that their city of Jerusalem is being turned into a poor, welfare city where many of its residents live in 18th century Poland and demand that they do, too. And really angry that demands on the state are being made by groups who do not support the state or its army. And it's about time Israelis who live as good, tax-paying, army-going citizens get really, really angry about this.  Instead of garnering sympathy for themselves, this group of Haredim have exposed themselves for what they really are: a marginal, fringe, radical group who distort the good name of Jews and Judaism everywhere. The group who dressed in Holocaust garments last week should be excommunicated—by their own Rabbis, not ours— as a real statement of repentance for their disrespect for the dead. No more platitudes coming from their official spokesmen. No more excuses.

It's also about time we liberal Jews got mad, too. It's about time we stopped romanticizing the Chasidim as if they were all Tevyes singing To Life, L'Chayim. It's about time we liberal Jews stopped financially supporting such groups no matter how much "good" they also do. It's about time we liberal Jews took ourselves seriously and stopped claiming "they" are authentic, "they" will keep Judaism alive. Is this the Judaism you want kept alive?

If not, it's time to get mad. Here are my suggestions:
1. The Knesset should pass a bill—as soon as possible—making it illegal to misuse Holocaust imagery as an insult to the memory of the dead and of the survivors still alive. Throw those who do so into jail immediately, or better yet, deport them. Let them protest in Holocaust garments in Williamsburg or Monsey, or Gaza, under Hamas.
2. Offer an attractive financial subsidy to any anti-Zionist Haredi group who will move themselves as a group out of Israel, so they no longer have to suffer living under a Zionist regime. Any Jewish philanthropist willing to do so will be strengthening Zionism.
3. All Jews should, as of today, monitor their financial contributions to communal chests and ask if one cent goes to any anti-Zionist Haredi school, yeshiva or institution anywhere in the world, even in your own town. If it does, stop your contribution and be sure you can direct it elsewhere.
4. Start giving generously to liberal Jewish causes in Israel, all of whom are fighting the good fight to keep Israel in the 21st century and to stop it from being "Talibanized." Example: make a donation to IRAC, Israel Religious Action Centre, which is doing amazing work on religious pluralism and democracy, and tell them it is specifically to be used for their work in fighting for religious rights.

It is simply unthinkable that a society as strong as Israel should be cow-towed anymore by a fringe group of quasi-citizens who use bullying, spiritual threats, and misappropriation of their own people's most painful memories to gain power and control over a country whose legally elected government they don't even recognize.


  1. I agree with all you have said. As a liberal Jew who made aliyah to live in Jerusalem in November 2008, I would add: If you are a liberal Jew who can make aliyah, please consider becoming a citizen of Israel and voting for those who will not play political games with the haredim. Dana Devorah

  2. Right on Elyse! Jewish women from everywhere in the world should descend on Jerusalem and 'take it back.' How dare they. And, how dare we let them Talibanize Israel!?!
    This is what happens when a State bases its democracy on religion rather than fundamental liberal values that include all. I am not at all surprise to see this happening - the constitution must change. All they have to do to win is have more babies. This is a fight for Israel but the potential, because it is a Jewish State rather than a Liberal Jewish State or a Zionist Jewish State, has sadly always been there.

  3. One of my readers, Dorothy Shoichet, emailed me to say:
    I was in Israel when the incidents occurred. I must say that the Haredi protest with the men wearing the striped pyjamas of the concentration camps and the children wearing the star of David incurred the wrath of pretty well everyone else in the State. There really was an uproar. I found your article to the point. It had to be said, and you said it. I was with some friends who live in Jerusalem and their response to the outrage, was "there is going to be blood on the streets". I particularly liked your idea to move them out of Israel; it seems outrageous to me that they do not believe in the State yet they insist that they and their countless children be supported by the State, and the State of course, is made up of the rest of the hard pressed Israelis. It is disturbing to me, that the highly regarded Rabbi Lau , Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv(former Chief Ashkenzi Rabbi of Israel) had made no comment re the recent events; perhaps he did so after I left. It was reported in the Haaretz nespaper,that almost all Rabbis condemned the behaviour of the Haredi men, yet reported that one Haredi Rabbi was the leader of the behaviour and the protests of that community. I do not believe that this will pass without dire consequences because, there are political ramifications at play. Of course, we can be as furious as possible, with little effect because we are not Israelis.

  4. Another email just in, Dorothy has mailed round the blog and another response just in from Diane Uslaner:
    "Thanks for sending Rabbi Elyse's blog--she is bang-on. Out here in California, where the Jews are either of the Birkenstock and guitar variety or hiding behind their discreetly lit Christmas trees, it's sometimes hard to feel connected to the greater outside Jewish world.

    One of my New Year's resolutions this year is to be more forthcoming to both my Jewish and non-Jewish friends about all that is going on and to express strongly my views--not knowing = not caring."

  5. Thank you Elyse for saying the truth as it is: sad, disapointing. Moving them out of Israel is a great idea. I think they can't make themselves a decent living and are supported by de state and the citizens they denied. Shame on them for using the Shoah as an argument. Although they think themselves as the only real jews, they are just a gang of fanatics.
    Finally, and "le tzaarenu harav" Prime Minister and his party are responsible for the rising and empowerment of the haredi groups.