Corridors of Power: The slander, the court martial and the cynicism

(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yechiel Levy, the director of the Kiryat Hayovel community center, went to sleep one night last week after what seemed to him like just another ordinary day and woke up the following morning to find out he had become an antisemite, full of hatred toward his fellows haredi residents, whom he planned to choke one by one.
As he struggled to understand how this transformation occurred, he heard himself slandered all over the media – ending the dreadful day with a letter of dismissal by the community centers group that was his direct employer.
It began quite innocently – a young Army Radio correspondent in the capital called the director of the Kiryat Hayovel local council and community center, to hear about the general atmosphere in the neighborhood vis-à-vis the haredi-secular issue. Levy has no experience in addressing the media and wasn’t even aware he was being recorded by the military journalist.
In answer to a question from that reporter, Levy responded that “there is a municipal policy aimed at choking the city’s haredi sector” – an analysis he gave on the grounds of his experience as manager of a community center in a neighborhood that lives the tensions between haredi and secular residents 24/7. Through somewhat problematic editing, the “municipal policy” phrase in Levy’s quote was changed to make it seem as though Levy himself planned to choke Jerusalem’s haredi community.
It took less than an hour for outraged Deputy Mayor Yossi Daitch (United Torah Judaism) to declare on the radio that Levy was an antisemite who should not be allowed to continue in his position. The uproar ignited by the two declarations escalated quickly to Mayor Nir Barkat’s office, who summarily sent a letter to the director of the community centers calling for Levy’s immediate dismissal.
There was no inquiry, no attempt to find out what really happened, no communication with the military reporter to find out what Levy really did say before the editing.
Levy wasn’t even invited to appear in the mayor’s office to present his version and explain what he meant. The director of the community centers requested an immediate apology from Levy, without even asking to hear his version. Levy acquiesced, delivering a public apology that many believe to be a mistake on his side, since the haredi representatives and others regarded it as an admission that he did say the offensive words. Levy never had an opportunity to clarify the difference between what he said and what was reported on the broadcast or to comment on the editing process that changed the meaning of his declaration to the journalist.
Reminiscent of the bad old days of Bolshevik court martials, Levy was accused, convicted and sentenced – not to death, but to be immediately dismissed – after some 40 years of loyal service to the community centers in several neighborhoods.
He was sent to the wilderness with a mark of shame on his head – as a hater of haredim planning to choke them wherever they go in the city.
Levy was a victim of the unbearable ease with which a person’s reputation can be damaged in near real time. He is not the first and probably not the last victim of the ongoing haredi/secular battle for hegemony to determine the identity of the city.
Whether the disagreement is over minimarkets or over the desire of non-haredi residents to screen films at a community center in their neighborhood on a Friday evening, words should be neither misused nor misquoted to serve one side or another.
The dreadful velocity with which this incident was handled by Barkat – an instant dismissal with not even the basic rights to a hearing – indicates that this struggle is far from reaching its end.
All parties involved should exercise more caution when dealing with this sensitive issue. The lives of real human beings are affected.