How utterly shameful!
Whoever would torment a little girl over her alleged “immodesty” should be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Whoever would spit on a young child in the name of religion blasphemes faith.
Whoever would call such a child a “prostitute” is, let’s face it, a sicko.
Naama is all of eight years old. She is the daughter of observant Jews who moved to Israel from the United States. She attends a religious school in Beit Shemesh, in the heart of Israel.
Yet to the zealots, she is anathema, not devout enough.
"When I walk to school in the morning, I used to get a tummy ache because I was so scared that they were going to stand and start yelling and spitting," she said in an interview with AP. And on Israeli television, she expressed fear that “I might get hurt or something.”
Is this what religion is about, scaring the bejeebers out of little girls and making them ill?
Yes, how utterly shameful!
This vulnerable, fragile child, trying to understand the world around her, has suddenly been thrust into the eye of a storm because a group of extremists believes that Judaism demands this of them.
Their Judaism is not my Judaism. Their strict codes and loose tongues need a recalibrating. Their willingness to target a child undermines any claim to moral righteousness they might make.
Naama and her family are no less entitled to their interpretation of Judaism than anyone else. They are no less entitled to live their lives free of harassment than anyone else. And they are no less entitled to equal protection under the law than anyone else.
To the credit of Israel, its leaders have been quick to speak up in the face of these despicable acts committed by those who believe they’re governed by their own rules, not the state’s.
President Shimon Peres said: "The entire nation must be recruited in order to save the majority from the hands of a small minority.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared: "In a Western, liberal democracy, the public realm is open and safe for all, men and women both, and neither harassment nor discrimination has any place there." He ordered a crackdown on the perpetrators.
And the Chief Rabbi of Israel’s armed forces, Brigadier Rafi Peretz, asserted that “There is no room for radical and erroneous interpretation of halacha (Jewish law), which serves as an excuse for discrimination against women. The Jewish spirit, our ancestors’ legacy, demands respect for women.”
The problem is not going to disappear overnight, though, even if the full force of the law is felt, as it should be.
The issue is larger than what tragically happened to one girl, and it is growing stronger.
Within Israel, there is a steadily increasing minority who believe they can bypass civil authority and act as they wish, while wrapping themselves in airtight religious doctrine.
They can call other Israelis “Nazis.” They can attack bases of the Israeli armed forces. They can assault journalists. They can spit on Christian clergy, as well as eight-year-old Jewish girls. They can press for gender separation. In other words, they behave as if they can take the law into their own hands.
Like other religious extremists, they contend they have a direct line to a higher authority and, no less importantly, that their higher authority has a direct line back to them.
For far too long, Israel has tried to accommodate such religious groups due, in large measure, to the vagaries of the electoral system.
Since no major political party ever wins an outright majority, and the threshold for entry into the Knesset is so low, there is constant maneuvering to win the support of the smaller parties, including religious groupings, in order to cobble together a majority coalition. And the price for that support can be high both in terms of budget and indulgence.
To be sure, Israel has more than its share of profound external challenges – from Iran’s nuclear aspirations and saber rattling to Egypt’s political convulsions; from Hezbollah’s growing arsenal to Hamas’s grip on Gaza; from the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terrorists to Syria’s uncertain future; and from Turkey’s animosity to the global campaign of delegitimization against the Jewish state.
But none of this should make us lose sight of the internal challenge posed by a segment of the population that wants to impose its will on the nation, even as it takes minimal responsibility for the country’s security and economy. Pretending this is a small or transitory phenomenon will not make it go away. On this one, kicking the can down the road has been tried and proved wanting.
Naama, until recently, was another beautiful, if unknown, child in a country that has been widely admired for seeking to create magical childhoods. Now, sadly, she has been put in the limelight, compelled to grow up too quickly and face the ugliness of hatred and intolerance – and from fellow Jews, no less.
Will this saga prove a turning point in galvanizing the forces of Jewish peoplehood and Israeli sovereignty across the spectrum to mobilize, set aside their differences du jour, and stand as one in defending the nation’s foundational values against the tyranny of a small but determined band of zealots?
Or, in this helter-skelter world in which we live, will it quickly pass from national consciousness until the next incident?
Sad as I am for what Naama has experienced, it would be sadder still if nothing positive – and enduring – for Israeli society resulted from the hell she’s been put through.
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