Bibi: Stand up to ultra-Orthodoxy

When ghetto and state clashed last month, the Jewish state’s leader vanished.

July 9, 2010 16:34
Haredi protesters in Jerusalem

haredim protest emmanuel 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Given that Israeli prime ministers are among the busiest people in the world, Binyamin Netanyahu proceeded to other issues since last month’s clash between ghetto and state.

The Turkish crisis, the Schalit march, the World Cup, the summer vacation, the settlement freeze, the maximum offer, the minimum pay, the Russian spy ring there and the latest traffic accident here all quickly removed from his agenda – if it ever was there – what began with haredi parents refusing to send their kids to study with darker Jews, and culminated in mass rallies as communities of abruptly jailed racist parents, fueled by rabbinical authorities, took on the judiciary.

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Sadly, the issue at stake – ultra-Orthodoxy as an abstract idea and a political threat – cannot be ignored by anyone who cares for the Jewish state, least of all its current prime minister, who considers himself, with good reason, a thinker.

That last month’s mayhem appalled Middle Israelis is almost needless to say. The haredi media ploy, to change the subject from racism to piety, convinced no one outside its originators’ pale.

Not one Middle Israeli bought the sanctimonious cries that the issue at stake was rabbinical authority or a particular student’s level of observance. In fact, it was about the racism that has been a fixture of Israel’s haredi education for generations, a disgrace monumentalized by the very emergence and success of the entire movement of Shas, and now merely highlighted at one more of its schools, incidentally in Emmanuel.

Middle Israelis also didn’t fall for an eye-rolling Aryeh Deri’s prattling to an interviewer, “Sure there is discrimination among the haredim, but is there no discrimination in the universities, the army, the police and the political system?”

There actually isn’t, Aryeh, certainly not on the institutional level. What are you suggesting, that admissions offices in the universities of Beersheba, Haifa or Bar-Ilan verify that an applicant’s grandparents did not hail from Baghdad, San’a or Cairo? Or that in seeking a new head for its cardiology department, Hadassah University Medical Center checks whether a doctor says yatzmah in reciting the Kaddish? Or that while weighing promotions of colonels and generals, the IDF waits for some oracle to emerge from the woodwork with the gospel: “Let’s take Gabi, he is Ashkenazi”?

Never mind right now that Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi is actually so “purely” non-Ashkenazi (he is half Syrian and half Bulgarian) that he would likely have been rejected at the doorstep of most of Aguda’s elite institutions; the fact is that ethnic profiling of the sort practiced by Israeli haredim not only exists nowhere else here, it is antithetical to the most basic Zionist quest, which is to cure the Jewish people of the disease called exile.

Ultra-Orthodoxy not only does not share this aim, it has an opposite goal, which is to idealize, restore and perpetuate all that was ill about our forebears’ stateless existence. That is why last month’s clash was not a struggle between synagogue and state, the kind that makes religious and secular Zionists spar over the character of the Sabbath, military or matrimonial law we Middle Israelis share. This clash was about the ghetto.

Like the ghetto, haredi segregation is about fear of the outer world; it is about selfishness; it is about ostracism, boycotts and tunnel vision; it is about not caring a fig for what lurks beyond the thick, tall and chilly wall bordering Jews Street; and it is about dismissing the state, its laws, courts and judges as a nuisance at best, anathema at worst, even when the state at stake is the one that shields the haredim, round the clock, on land, at sea and in the air, the one that feeds their unplanned and under-working families and in fact finances the schools in which they defile all that the state and the vast majority of the people beyond the haredi ghetto hold dear, indispensable and sacred, too.

HAD THE scandal been limited to one community and its stubborn parents, it would have arguably not been the business of the prime minister.Not a lot of time is left after he deals on a daily basis with Iran, Erdogan, Obama, Abbas, Hamas, Europe, the economy, foreign workers, terror, espionage and what not. But this one has patently transcended the walls of the ghetto in which its perpetrators seek refuge as if the rest of us had been Cossacks, inquisitors or – as some of them habitually shout when clashing with police – “Nazis!” This clash was not limited to one locality, or for that matter to the ignorant masses. Rather, it was joined by the entire haredi elite, from the rabbis who said the clash was about their supremacy over the state’s laws and judges, to Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush who, eager to display his identification with his milieu’s racism, relocated his taxpayerfinanced office opposite the jail where the racist school’s parents were being held.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the arena, trapped between his movement’s twin flags of ultra-Orthodoxy and equality, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef emerged with his own quip concerning the situation: Send your kids to Sephardi schools, he told his admiring flock, lest they emerge from an Ashkenazi school “with an Ashkenazi mind.”

Bibi, do you understand what all this means? This is a pincer movement on the Zionist enterprise.

From here ultra-Orthodoxy’s European leadership, and from there its Middle Eastern adversaries, are effectively restoring all the tribalism that David Ben-Gurion labored so hard to undo. It must be confronted, and the one to lead this battle must be you.

Alas, from what we have so far seen, you treat this as a politician rather than a leader; once you saw quiet restored to the streets you thought you could move on. Well you can’t, because the way the haredim read the situation they have just won your license to ethnically segregate their ever-growing schools. This attitude threatens our future here no less than an external enemy’s weaponry, maybe even more, because the physical weapons are currently inactive, while this social weapon is activated every day, every hour and in each of our cities.

Haredism is not only a set of demands to be toyed with while assembling and maintaining coalitions; it is an idea, an idea that harks back to the times when the Jewish nation was socially disjointed, nationally intangible and politically disempowered, and consequently thought that nurturing the community was more important than obeying, let alone serving, the state. Well that may have made sense when the state was Czar Nikolai. But this state, Bibi, is you, isn’t it?

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