The ongoing struggle in Beit Shemesh is a microcosm of a wider fight for the
character of the State of Israel.
Last week, on the first day back at
school after the holiday break, the religious extremists who had been
demonstrating against the Orot Banot national-religious girls’ school returned
and began screaming right outside the building. Police were summoned and, in
contrast to the passive, soft treatment the extremists were given in previous
protests, a young, new officer pulled out his taser gun and pulled the trigger,
causing the demonstrators to vacate the area immediately. The demonstrators have
not yet returned.
The next day, a secular woman in her sixties from
Hebrew University, dressed modestly in an ordinary shirt and with pants to her
knees, was walking through the neighborhood to conduct a poll about
terror-related trauma. When she approached a building which houses some
religious extremists, she was physically blocked from entering and subjected to
Again, the police were summoned, but this time, instead
of using force to escort the woman into the public apartment building, they
checked her ID and discussed the situation with the extremists, whose numbers
had grown substantially as more and more flocked to the site from around the
neighborhood. One officer tried unsuccessfully to move one of the extremists.
Eventually, the police ended up sending the woman to the local police station to
file a complaint against the goons. The extremists walked away empowered and
This second story reflects the more usual experience in Beit
Shemesh in recent months. Extremists have been allowed to verbally assault
little girls on a regular basis because police prefer quiet to enforcing the
law. They fear that coming down hard on the extremists will lead to rioting,
burning trash bins and the blocking of main roads. They simply do not want to
deal with that. Instead, they have opted for peace and quiet, at the expense of
young girls’ trauma.
THE ISSUE is not limited to local police. Government
officials have been made aware of the clashes, but no major attempts have been
made to stop the goons from harassing these children.
In Beit Shemesh,
this development has started to affect other areas of our lives as well. There
are plans for 20,000 new housing units to be built in the beautiful hills
surrounding Beit Shemesh. The general population is fighting hard to make sure
that some of these new neighborhoods be built to meet the needs of the general
population and not just those of the ultra-Orthodox.
Why is there a need
to fight for this? Because the coalition agreement between Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu and Degel Hatorah promises that ultra-Orthodox communities
will get preferential treatment with regard to future construction in Beit
This agreement was made despite the fact that a huge percentage
of the city’s general population supported Netanyahu and his party in the
previous elections. But instead of allowing us to build a nice, balanced city
for all sectors of our population to live, including the ultra-Orthodox, the
leader we voted for has given in to political pressure. That will breed more
extremism instead of doing the right thing and embracing a moderate
This is about more than Beit Shemesh: it is about extremists
vs. moderates and what this country will look like in 20 years. The
ultra- Orthodox population is reproducing at a far more rapid pace than the rest
of the country. At some stage, the ultra-Orthodox will constitute a majority of
Jews in Israel.
Is that a problem? God forbid! The average ultra-Orthodox
Jew on the street has no interest in forcing his values on any other Israeli,
has no interest in making any city or the country ultra-Orthodox, and is busy
simply making a living and raising a family. They have no interest in seeing the
ultra-Orthodox world become more extreme and would gladly live a moderate
lifestyle in peace and quiet with their neighbors.
If the extremists were
to be isolated by means of a strong and determined agenda to squelch their
hatred, the moderates would encourage these efforts and would work together with
the general population to continue building a beautiful and moderate
In fact, as Beit Shemesh experienced with the extremists fleeing
from one taser gun and the moderates applauding that police action, a strong
response will silence the extremists, even if they initially react with riots
and the like, while emboldening the moderates.
IF WE use this approach,
no Israeli need fear the spectre of an ultra- Orthodox majority in this country
because aside from a few outcast extremists, no one would try to impose their
lifestyle on others.
However, when ultra-Orthodox political and rabbinic
leaders are permitted and empowered to openly act in extremist ways without any
resistance or repercussions, then the growth of this community does become a
problem. The tendency is for even moderate ultra-Orthodox Jews to yield to the
pressure of their peers, resulting in the entire community slowly become more
Unfortunately, the recent trend has been to sit back and enable
and embolden the extremists among the ultra-Orthodox movement. This is a
development which polarizes populations and has the power to ultimately destroy
While there is absolutely no comparison between the
motivations, emotions and goals in the tensions between the ultra-Orthodox and
the general population to our struggles with the Palestinians, the same
principles are at work. When Israel exhibited strength against Hamas and other
militant groups, the extremists remained isolated and moderate voices were able
to be heard. But that approach seems to be a thing of the past. The pacifistic,
soft approach to dealing with our enemies which has emerged in recent decades
has not only strengthened the fanatics but has silenced the moderates and pushed
them toward the side of the extremists.
We now sit at this critical
Will the State of Israel become an extremist, fanatic and
unpleasant place to live on the religious side and an unsafe and uncertain
country on the security side, or will we fight extremists on all fronts and
enable the ultra-Orthodox moderates to call the shots on religious matters and
the Palestinian moderates to represent their people on security matters?
That decision is currently in the hands of our country’s leaders and, sadly,
from police chiefs up to the government ministers, they seem to be steering us
in the wrong direction on all fronts.
If these leaders do not change
course quickly and choose the right path, we must explore other
Their inaction and unwillingness to change on this critical
issue should lead all concerned citizens to consider not voting the same tired,
pacifist and soft leaders into power over and over again (regardless of what
they promise before the elections) while they lead us to a life of fanaticism,
extremism and lack of security.
We should vote for new and fresh
alternatives who will act with absolute force against extremism in all its
forms, and provide us all with both a safe country from without and a moderate
and free country which captures all the beauty which Judaism has to offer from
The writer is a rabbi, teacher, author and community activist in Beit
Shemesh and director of Anglos for Am Shalem, a new political movement led by MK
Rabbi Haim Amsalem.http://www.rabbilipman.com/