Incitement against religious Jews and their parties disfigures election

Know Comment: Snub the anti-religious scallywags

A young haredi boy wearing a "Jude" star takes part in a protest against mandatory IDF conscription, March 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A young haredi boy wearing a "Jude" star takes part in a protest against mandatory IDF conscription, March 2018
This has been a lackluster summer-fall election campaign, devoid of nearly all passion, with one exception: incitement against religious Jews and religious parties.
In fact, the venom against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that characterized the April election campaign has been bested this month by vituperation against haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and religious Zionist politicians. It’s hunting season on Jewish tradition, the traditional Jewish family, Jewish scholarship, displays of religious belief, the rabbinate, rabbinical courts, Shabbat legislation, and even religious cultural events.
The anti-religious radical Left has a nasty name for all supposed forms of public religious expression and coercion: hadata or “religionization,” (which, not coincidentally, rhymes with abomination).
The granddaddy of the anti-religious rampage is Yisrael Beytenu czar Avigdor Liberman. Also partaking in this festival of atavistic hatred are Ehud Barak, Nitzan Horowitz and Stav Shaffir of the so-called (and certainly to-be-short-lived) “Democratic Camp”; Itzik Shmuli of Labor; and Yair Lapid of Blue and White. The latter is well-traveled in this territory.
They are competing for the votes of, say, 5%-10% of ardent Israeli secularists who fear “religionization” or detest religion more than they care about the “occupation” of the Palestinians.
The religion-baiting campaigns of these politicians goes way beyond the limits of acceptable debate regarding the role of religion in politics or the appropriateness of legislation that impinges on religious freedom (or guarantees freedom from religion). Their fiery agitation goes way beyond expected (and accurate) criticism of the haredi-ized rabbinical bureaucracy.
The tone and phonetics of their imprecations are plainly self-hating and antisemitic. If such campaigning were to be used abroad, every Jewish defense agency would be screaming bloody murder.
I hear things like this: Rabbis are out to indoctrinate your children and subjugate your women. Religious Jews will imprison you (in your home on Shabbat), spoil your food (via kashrut impositions), and restrict your sexual freedoms (especially LGBTQ rights).
This is what Democratic Camp ads and some Labor social media posts smell and sound like, replete with horror movie soundtracks. The anti-religious fear-mongering crusade is far worse than Tommy Lapid’s Shinui Party’s infamous anti-haredi ad campaign of 2003.
According to Barak, it’s enough to appear on stage with Rabbi Rafi Peretz of the Yamina Party or Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed to be called a fundamentalist or fascist.
According to Liberman, it’s enough to praise Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina) or Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) for something useful they did in a professional capacity to be declared a bigot, misogynist and Neanderthal.
According to Shaffir (who, incidentally, is opposed to singing “Hatikvah” at events of her wild-left social circles), it’s enough to support a bit more Jewish and Zionist education in the mamlachti (non-religious) school system to be declared a dangerous religious storm trooper. The intemperate Shaffir is swift to blame rabbis for almost every extremist act in the country including, farcically, the stabbing of a gay Arab by his anti-gay Arab brother in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago.
IT’S TIME to reassert some rationality and moderation in national debates over matters of religion and state, or faith and democracy. It’s essential for the health of our society.
I am convinced that the vast majority of Israelis are profoundly uncomfortable with the current anti-religious rabble-rousing. Disagreements about matters of faith and policy can be adjudicated reasonably out of respect for both tradition and liberalism. And we are, ultimately and unquestionably, a nation of believers and democrats.
Not so long ago, the steadfast leaders of the socialist-secularist-Zionist Left like David Ben-Gurion had no problem articulating their love for Jewish erudition and acting on their desire that all Israeli youth be knowledgeable of Jewish texts.
Ben-Gurion would have angrily rejected the simplistic and false dichotomy that Shaffir and Shmuli, for example, love to promote about Judaism and liberalism. “There is no wall of separation (mehitza) in Israel between Judaism and humanism,” wrote Ben-Gurion in 1954. “Our physical and spiritual lives are entirely integrated in one overarching and embracing framework: Jewish sovereignty.”
On November 7, 1955, Ben-Gurion wrote to education minister Zalman Aran (who, like Ben-Gurion, was a Mapai MK) as follows: “To the extent that I am familiar with our youth (and it is the best youth!), they are very deficient in Jewish consciousness, knowledge of our historical legacy and any moral connection to world Jewry. You should arrange the educational curriculum in Israeli schools to rectify this, without impinging on other necessary fields of study.”
Aran then established the “Center for Advancing Jewish Awareness” in the Education Ministry, which created a curriculum for teaching the Torah portion of the week, prayer, Jewish holidays and traditions in the secular school system.
Aran wrote, “Wellsprings of grandeur are embedded in the history and traditional source books of the Jewish People. We must expand the access of our youth to these wellsprings, without regard for the ridicule of the complacent or the boorishness of the coarse.”
We need politicians like Ben-Gurion and Aran today; men of reflection whose non-religious ideological moorings were secure and deep enough to also embrace Jewish and Zionist roots.
Unlike the scallywags and whippersnappers of the current Israeli election campaign, they didn’t need to clobber rabbis or trample Jewish tradition to form an identity. They didn’t engage in gutter stomping to snag a vote or two.
The writer is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, His personal site is