Analysis: Losing fight against non-existent 'H' people

The ultra-orthodox leadership is starting to regret its overt opposition to Thursday's Gay Parade.

haredi anit-gay 298 good (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haredi anit-gay 298 good
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
For many ultra-Orthodox rabbis, if there is one thing worse than allowing the gay pride parade to go ahead in Jerusalem on Thursday, it is publicly acknowledging that there is such a thing as gays, let alone a gay community. The fact that the haredi front against the parade seems to be crumbling, of course, signals no change in their view that homosexuality is a deadly sin. Rather, it proves what a difficult job it is for the haredi leaders and educators to batten down the hatches to the outside world. None of the ultra-Orthodox newspapers has ever printed the H-word. Indeed, some of them are under strict orders to not even mention the event that is causing such strife; the others simply refer to it as "the abomination." Actually, homosexuality is only one of a list of items that are forbidden from mention in the haredi press. The list also includes rape and any other kinds of sexual offenses. Crime, especially murder, also goes largely unreported. Any event that happened on television is referred to obliquely, as are statements made by female politicians. Some papers refer to female politicians by an initial, so as to hide their gender. Showing their photograph is unthinkable. This policy has made reporting of numerous major events increasingly difficult. The troubles of outgoing President Moshe Katsav and former justice minister Haim Ramon were not reported, and nor was the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. When the US president seemed on the verge of impeachment, the Yated Ne'eman daily reported that he might lose his job for "lying." The rabbis don't live in a utopia and they don't think that, by not writing about any of these things, they can make them go away. Some of them at least are also realistic enough to admit that their followers, especially the younger ones, have enough ways of finding out what's really going on and that their best efforts cannot block every channel. But their view of journalism is that a newspaper should reflect ideology - not only in the commentary and op-ed columns, but also in the makeup of the news pages. They operate on a need-to-know basis, and any subject that the rabbis don't want their people dwelling upon has no place in their newspaper. Most of the papers are owned by the haredi political parties and managed by editors who are appointed by the rabbis. In some cases - notably Yated, which is operated by the Lithuanian stream - a specially appointed functionary goes over every page, including the ads, after it has been approved by the editors to make sure there are no aberrations. Even the privately owned weeklies and magazines are forced to submit to some kind of rabbinical supervision or risk sanction. In accordance with this time-honored tradition, the attitude toward the gay parade should have been one of aloof indifference. This was indeed the case when the gay community marched in Tel Aviv, but with Jerusalem, the case is different. The haredi leadership has always regarded any kind of public "mitzva desecration" in the holy city, such as cars driving and cinemas operating on Shabbat, as objectionable. But in recent years, the mainstream haredi leadership has steered its public away from protests on the streets and instead focused its energies on taking control of the city by other methods. The strategy has proven itself in the transformation of most of northern Jerusalem into ultra-Orthodox territory, in the fact that a majority of children starting out in the local school system are in haredi schools and, of course, in that the mayor of Israel's capital is now a man first appointed by the rabbis, and only then voted in by the electorate. Most of the senior rabbis would gladly go back three years, to when the first protests against the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade started, and silence them. They believe that the wide attention given to the event within the community has been an own goal. By bitterly opposing the homosexuals and their supporters, the haredi leadership is acknowledging a phenomena whose very existence it denies. If gay people are just a bunch of sick perverts with no relevance to the haredi community, then how come rabbis and haredi politicians are getting so worked up about it? And if this is a struggle that thousands are supposed to join, how can a haredi parent stop his children asking him what it's all about? Off the record, haredi leaders are blaming the small, extremist Eda Haredit, which is opposed to any kind of involvement with the heretical Zionist state, for stoking the fire with the intention to shame the mainstream leadership for its acquiescence. Their claim is that quiet expansion and political maneuvering within the state establishment has achieved much more than any violent protest. But the gay parade was such a boiling public issue that the rabbis had difficulty holding back their more hot-headed supporters. One senior rabbi who has resolutely kept out of the fray is Rabbi Yaakov Alter, the leader of the the Gur Hasidim, who refused to lend his name to any of the calls to action and kept all mention of the protests out of the Ha'modia daily, which he controls. The announcement by the leading "Lithuanian" sage, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, forbidding any yeshiva student from participating in the protests, is another sign that the ultra-Orthodox leaders are reverting to form. As much as they hate the idea, the main haredi groups, it seems, will keep away and allow the gay parade to go ahead. As far as they are concerned, after all, it doesn't exist.