Second only to the security threats that Israel faces daily, the most important issue confronting Israeli society right this minute is the ongoing conflict and irreconcilability between the Orthodox and secular populations. The unity of the Jewish People is completely dependent on the resolution of this issue. Failure in finding a compromise could lead to some of the gravest consequences imaginable. No one wants a civil war, but that just might be what we get.
This issue is more important to Israel’s future than the agenda of the social movement, it is more pressing than the management of the dangers posed to Israel by the world economic crisis, and it is unquestionably a more pertinent discussion than whether or not Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should have teamed up. The evolution of Israeli society is utterly stifled due to the inability to resolve the conflicting needs and wants of the orthodox and secular communities.
The media should therefore be treating this issue with the utmost sensitivity. Unfortunately, it instead chooses to incite the ire of both sides of the conflict, fanning the flames of hatred across Israeli society. An unfortunate example of this can be seen through the publication of two opinion pieces that appeared recently in Yediot Ahronot. A responsible media would have ensured neither article saw the light of day – each for a different reason.
The first article was authored by Yaron London and titled, “Israel needs fewer Haredim”. The title alone should have set off blaring alarm bells. According to London, since we are as yet to find a way to integrate Haredim into the army framework, the “intellectual effort dedicated to the issue of IDF enlistment should be dedicated to the greater challenge: shrinking the ranks of the Haredim.” Thank God he falls short of providing suggestions on how exactly we are supposed to do so.
A response to this article was inevitable, and Yitzhak Tesler heeded the call. His article, “What about the Arabs?”, was published in Yediot Ahronot a few days after Tesler's. Tesler contends that in all of the accusations that London flings at the haredi population, the Arabs are far worse. He asserts that London was only bold enough to write his article about Haredim as it would have been “unacceptable and politically incorrect” to write it about the Arab population. Tesler then babbles on about all sort of statistics that supposedly prove Arabs are “worse” than haredim.
If Yediot really cared about seeing an end to this nightmare that continues to torment Israeli society, they would have exercised basic good sense and never allowed either of these outrageous articles to appear in print.
London’s article is plainly disgraceful. His ideas are hateful and blatantly inflammatory. These types of opinions have no place in sensible conversation about the matter, and any member of Israeli society with a smidgen of respect for the Jewish nation and an iota of desire to see a positive resolution materialize, must reject his proposal.
Tesler’s article however, should not have been published for entirely different reasons. An astute reader will quickly identify that Tesler’s response is a weak, flawed argument, offensive to the Arab population, and a terrible advertisement for the haredi community. His premise makes the Haredim seem even further disconnected from mainstream Israeli society. Tesler failed miserably in his attempt to endear the haredim to the wider public and only gave haredi-bashers more fuel for ammunition.
Since the media seems to be in the business of inflaming hostilities rather than dissolving them, Yediot failed to throw Tesler’s submission to the scrap heap. Instead, they jumped at the chance to exploit Tesler’s article, knowing that it would brew more anger. What better way to create interest for their readership?
Yediot should never have facilitated Tesler in delivering his inadequate response on behalf of a haredi community that can ill-afford poor spokespeople.
The press must come to the realization that a resolution to the protracted conflict between the orthodox and secular communities is a national priority. There is room for common ground and conciliation. This issue can be solved – both parties just need to want it. They must understand that parochially championing their demands only widens the gap between sectors. To facilitate the journey to national unity, dialogue must begin with each side asking the question, “what can we do to make the other party comfortable?”, not, “how can we get what we want for ourselves?”.
The media must jump on board with this idea. It has the ability to use its wide reach to champion an end to the conflict, and as such is obligated to do so. Instead of being a vehicle for proliferating hatred and inciting the masses , the media must step up to the plate and foster the evolution of Israeli society. Feeding off and exploiting the negatives of the status quo to sell more newspapers is an unacceptable alternative. This conflict demands sensitivity, discretion and responsibility from the media, as if our national security depended on it.
The writer is a commentator and business consultant who lives in Jerusalem.