How reassuring: Jerusalem Police commissioner Nisso Shaham has sanctimoniously
added his two cents’ worth to the synthetic hullabaloo that gripped specified
Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh neighborhoods – the sort to which I and my sort never
go. Yet my non-Jerusalemite sort is the loudest in kicking up a righteous fuss
about oddities that barely impact our daily lives.
Those of us who
remember this country a little further back than the day before yesterday know
that given anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox elements habitually sought to stoke the
fires of contention. Their counterparts on the leftist fringes of our political
patchwork were equally eager to fan the flames. For the latter, it’s politically
expedient to ignite culture wars and lump the entire complex gamut of Israel’s
observant Jews under the single, all-inclusive epithet of haredim
The religious zealot who called a female soldier pritzeh
(Yiddish for a woman of loose morals) was turned into a sectarian martyr when
the prosecution – generally renowned for its languor and lenient plea bargains –
charged him with no less than sexual harassment. The outsized photo of the
secularist heroine in khaki, posing with self-important indignation, became the
obligatory front-page feature for all tabloids.
And this brings us back
Exuding holier-than-thou mannerisms, he appeared before the
press and in measured tones – pious eyes all but rolling skyward – wished that
“the rabbis would condemn this. The rabbis can put a stop to it
Since plenty of rabbis commented quite unambiguously, this leaves
us with a choice of two conclusions about Shaham. Either he’s clueless about the
communities under his jurisdiction, or he’s an out-and-out hypocrite. Ignorant
or disingenuous, it’s a cheerless bottom line.
NO SINGLE spiritual
authority sways the weird and anarchic groupings in Shaham’s bailiwick. These,
by tradition, rival each other unrestrainedly. Indeed, most any rabbi’s reproof
is sure to trigger in-your-face provocative escalation from his wild-bunch
opponents in given diminutive enclaves of Mea She’arim and its Beit Shemesh
spillover. It boggles the mind that a Jerusalem Police chief wouldn’t know this
(or that he’d pretend not to).
But it takes the cake for Shaham, of all
people, to posture as the voice of moderation, appealing for decorum and
tolerance. He’s hardly the poster-child for fair play and self-discipline. Have
the sands of time truly buried Shaham’s own transgressions? Or does his proven
relish for battering political opponents confer immunity upon him?
though selective amnesia may be, let’s just the same revisit conduct of our
capital’s No. 1 law-enforcer. For those who may have forgotten (not too
unpredictably, because tendentious scribblers and broadcasters hardly harped on
the issue), here’s a brief reminder.
During the 2005 pre-disengagement
mass-rally in Kfar Maimon, then-Negev District commander Shaham affected his
most macho pose for TV crews, well aware that the commands he barked to young
subordinates would be widely broadcast. That suited him perfectly – televised
exposure might impress prime minister Ariel Sharon. A hefty professional
advancement seemed in the bag.
And so hectored Shaham for all to hear: “I
want arrests, and I tell you to use water cannons unconditionally. Don’t
call me. Go for the water cannons. I know these haredim. Shit upon them. They
should burn. Don’t reassess – use water cannons and clubs. Hit them hard
on the lower parts of the body. Work as you know how. I’m an expert in handling
Shaham proceeded to boast before the entire watching
nation that he was braver than his own superiors, who had advised him not to
charge into Kfar Maimon.
Shaham’s reply: “I’m not some whore who opens
her legs and waits for someone to come in. You can bank on my ability to open
their [the protesters’] legs. I’ll f**k their mother’s mother. Now go tell your
buddies… not just a few beatings. I’m telling you all this to spare you the need
to seek authorization.”
Later, under pressure and to avoid greater
repercussions than a feeble reprimand, Shaham issued a wan statement of regret,
claiming he had been overwrought. That – unsurprisingly – sufficed in
2007 for a three-judge Supreme Court panel to reject petitions against his
then-new appointment to the post of Jerusalem deputy police commissioner. The
petitioners wondered what the reaction would have been had Shaham’s expletives
been directed at Arabs rather than haredim.
But the court condemned the
petitioners for “seeking to ostracize a valued police officer because of one
slip of the tongue, for which he tendered apology.”
More recently, Shaham
was promoted to Jerusalem District commissioner. Why not? It had already been
amply established by the highest court in the land that his bias and obscenities
were no impediments.
Regardless of our unqualified rejection of
gender-exclusion and linked excesses in Jerusalem and its zany environs, we need
to keep in mind the excesses of those entrusted to safeguard what we broadly all
recognize as justice. It cannot be that one man’s shout of “pritzeh” would
outweigh a leading officer of the law aggressively sending his underlings to
f**k the haredim’s mothers’ mothers.
MAKING IT worse is that
anti-disengagement activists were nothing like Jerusalem’s current headline-
generators. But distorting generalizations are the enlightened bon ton. Never
mind that the “public enemies” the media reviles obsessively – settlers and Mea
She’arim militants – occupy diametrically opposite ends of Israel’s
Super-patriot settlers and their supporters are avid, if
frustrated, Zionists. The bus-segregationists are passionate anti-Zionists. Way
back, the differences among Israel’s religious Jews weren’t deliberately
obfuscated, perhaps because in the days of Labor hegemony, it was in nobody’s
interest to tar entire communities with the same brush.
that anti-Zionists excoriated renascent Jewish sovereignty because the state’s
founders didn’t wait for the Messiah. We realized the Messiah’s apostles mostly
hailed from among Mea She’arim’s Natorei Karta segment, whose most fervent
fanatic confederates were members of the uncompromising hassidic branch that
emerged from the former Hungarian town of Satmar (now Romania’s Satu
They themselves chronically divide into inimical sub-sects, the
most belligerent of which have always caused trouble – from the time they
opposed a swimming pool in Jerusalem, to the time their then-leader Moshe Hirsch
was appointed by Yasser Arafat as the PA’s “minister for Jewish affairs,” and
all the way to the participation of several in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2006
Holocaust-denial fest in Tehran (only to be shunned later even by their own
Shaham ought to know that generic rabbis cannot dictate to
these cyclically splintering clusters, who confrontationally foment adversity
among their nearest and dearest over hairsplitting nuances. They aren’t the
greatest danger to our societal fiber because they essentially reside outside
our society – to the extent of even refusing any welfare services from the state
Offensive placards always proliferated in Natorei Karta
neighborhoods, but yesteryear’s mainstream was amused by the exotica and didn’t
elevate it to existential-menace proportions.
Proportions are paramount.
It’s dangerous to blow things out of all proportion or, conversely, to lose our
collective sense of proportion by pooh-poohing vituperative prejudice. Supposed
upholders of legality like vulgar Shaham make political hay by self-servingly
inflaming communal strife. They do well for themselves out of making things
worse for everyone else.www.sarahhonig.com