Double standards

The capacity of public opinion to gloss over what should deeply shock it continues to amaze.

haredi man book 88 (photo credit: )
haredi man book 88
(photo credit: )
The capacity of public opinion to gloss over what should deeply shock it continues to amaze. A few days ago Channel 2 screened extremely dismaying footage. It did not arouse major outrage. The video clearly shows groups of haredi protesters sitting passively on a rocky Highway 6 construction site. They're approached by hired guards who begin shoving, kicking, beating, throwing to the ground and dragging the helpless protesters. The violence was underscored by abuse. Demonstrators' hats were hurled in the air; beards and sidecurls were sadistically pulled. Words can do little justice to the visual evidence. It's difficult to decide what's more offensive: The pictures of private security personnel subjecting orthodox demonstrators to abuse and horrendous beatings or the relatively low level of the subsequent outcry. Whatever one may feel about haredi protesters at the construction site, no demonstrator deserves to be manhandled so brutally. Some arrests have now been made and the police are still investigating. The ultra-orthodox claim a section of the toll road project near Kibbutz Regavim involves the destruction of ancient graves. It matters little who's really buried there; suffice it to say that a segment of opinion believes these to be Jewish graves and that it's a sacrilege to bulldoze or move them. Experience had shown that with enough goodwill and commonsense creative solutions can be found. In this case the builders decided to end the controversy with muscle. Nothing merits treating haredi demonstrators any differently from the manner in which students or striking workers are handled when they block highways or barricade themselves inside factories or university faculties. Had this very same footage originated in another country, official Israel would be up in arms and would indignantly decry the resurgence of so reprehensible an anti-Semitic manifestation. Secular, pluralist and humanist Israel cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this. With some reason, the secular majority is disturbed by the haredi penchant for separating itself from society except when it comes to receiving funds from the government. But tolerating violence against the community goes too far. So, too, while we're on the subject, does the recent Supreme Court decision to deny subsidized hot school meals to pupils of haredi elementary schools in the settlement city of Betar Illit. The court's ruling, as formulated by Justice Mishael Cheshin, may hold water in the narrowest legalistic terms, but it doesn't wash by any other criteria. Cheshin argued that those parents who want their children to enjoy state-subsidized lunches ought to send their kids to state schools. Labor MK Yuli Tamir, who initiated the school meal program, however, notes the legislative intent was to make sure that "each schoolchild receives a hot meal during a long school day without any regard to the child's communal identity or the sort of upbringing his parents prefer. The school is only the physical venue for the program, not the central reason for its existence." Hypothetically, Tamir argues, "the law could oblige all Israeli pupils to sing the national anthem and salute the flag. If Arab students refused, would they then be denied school meals?" She further observes that Betar Illit is one of our poorest cities. Letting its children go hungry will hardly persuade their parents to abandon their creed or educational preferences." No child's interests should be compromised in order to force his parents to change their minds about anything. Indeed this is precisely what no other than Meretz's Yossi Sarid told the Knesset Education Committee regarding this very issue last year: "Children are children. Haredi children deserve no less than their counterparts. They aren't guilty of anything. They didn't choose to be born to haredi families… Distinctions of this sort aren't even made in anti-Semitic countries." Well said. Haredi children make up the bulk of Israel's most impoverished juvenile population. They get just as hungry as any other children. Haredi demonstrators, the issues they champion notwithstanding, deserve defense from hired hooligans just like all other citizens. Justice must apply equally to all. That is key. If double standards are allowed, one should not be surprised by the divisive consequences.