Israel's Rosa Parks

Tanya Rosenblit may become Israel''s Rosa Parks.
Her refusal to go to the back of the bus produced a story on the front page of Ha''aretz, as well as supportive comments by Prime Minister Netanyahu in the meeting of the Government, by Opposition Head Tzipi Livni, and by Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger. All of those worthies decried the religious fashion of segregating women.
The former administrator of the Chief Rabbinate said on Israel Radio that all forms of "non-Jewish" extremism must end. He referred not only to the separation of women by the ultra-Orthodox in public places and the complete coverage of body and face by women, but also to the activities of Orthodox extremists acting against Arab individuals and property, including the desecration of mosques, and against soldiers assigned to protect Arabs or to remove illegal settlements. The commanding general of the army has emphasized that women will continue to serve in the IDF, and that women singers will continue to entertain his soldiers.
One can hope that extremism will exit the religious segment of Israeli politics, without really expecting it.
The African-American example, of which Rosa Parks was an element, may be useful in guiding the speculation.
In a society priding itself on being law-abiding, it took decades from the time the United States Supreme Court began ruling against segregation until the ultimate extension of desegregation and other civil rights to African-Americans in the 1960s. Subsequent research shows that the process continues. Although segregation may no longer be required by state law or local ordinance, there has been a re-segregation of education along with the continued segregation of housing, especially in the case of lower-income African-Americans. Social class may actually be the greater deterrent to equal opportunity than race or ethnicity, but for many individuals the analytic distinction makes no difference.
Israel also prides itself on the rule of law, but the claim is imperfect. The police and military respond with great differences to the violence of Jews and Arabs, often amounting to life or death for those whose demonstrations are not entirely peaceful. Both ultra-Orthodox and Religious Zionist extremists among the Orthodox conceive of a law higher than that of the state which they derive from religious doctrines, and both include in their justifications a sense of being persecuted by a misguided state.
It would be a mistake to view the ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox extremists as similar, or concerned with similar laws of the Almighty. Ultra-Orthodox congregations separate themselves from one another, which facilitates the extremists among them following the doctrines of their own rabbis. In what has become fashionable, these now emphasize the separation of the sexes, and the modesty of womens'' dress. The same emphasis on the separation of sexes has attracted support from a number of Orthodox rabbis and their followers.
The more troublesome emphasis of Religious Zionist extremists is their fascination with the Land of Israel, claimed to be a gift from God, with their selective reading of sacred texts to define the geographical dimensions of the gift, and how to treat non-Jews who claim ownership of the same land.
Disagreement among rabbis has been a feature of Judaism since ancient times, and is no less apparent in these issues. Not only the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi is joining in the campaign against extremism. A well known rabbi in the Jewish settlement of Tekoa made a point of inviting a mixed instrumental ensemble to provide a concert in his synagogue. Those in the know will observe that the rabbi did not go so far as to invite a performance by a female singer.
The mixture of voices in the Orthodox Rabbinate does not assure peace and quiet on the sexual and religious front.
The ultra-Orthodox, in particular, have a long history of setting themselves apart from the laws of the goyim in their pre-Israel homelands. They have continued the practice by providing the Jewish state with nothing more than partial legitimacy. Most are willing to accept state money for their schools, housing, synagogues, and religious academies, but have been less willing to accept the state''s demands about the contents of their schooling or other issues, like the treatment of women in public places.
A general animosity toward the state by Religious Zionists is less prominent. Indeed, many of them are enthusiastic about serving in the IDF, and going the extra steps of volunteering for officer training or special forces. Their problem with the state has developed since 1967, when extensive Jewish settlements beyond the earlier borders became feasible, and more recently as state officials have sought to reign in settlement activities and to remove those considered to be illegal. The removal of settlements in Gaza earlier created by the state added to anti-state sentiments among Religious Zionists.
There are no clear numbers about the various groups of ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox who go so far in their activities as to demand the separation of men and women in public places, or to act violently in the West Bank against Arabs and soldiers. Most of the ultra-Orthodox are passive onlookers in these squabbles, like the vast majority of secular Israelis. Estimates are that only a couple of hundred Orthodox Zionists may go so far as to take part in violence against Arabs or the IDF (when they are not themselves in uniform). Both groups generate support by floaters in their communities when it comes to a confrontation with authorities.
On my afternoon walk around the neighborhood I came upon workers installing a Chanukah menorah on a prominent traffic circles. No sign of a Christmas tree. Along with all of the above, this is a Jewish country.