When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked by an interviewer this week about the almost 6,000 Israelis who have died from the coronavirus despite the vaccines, he flippantly replied that the question should be addressed to “Paka paka, Shasha Shasha.”
This was a reference to New Hope’s No. 2, Yifat Shasha-Biton, who headed the Knesset Coronavirus Committee last summer and opposed many government decisions to close much of the country because of the virus.
Netanyahu’s comment caused an uproar.
Some, justifiably, criticized him for making light of the deaths of nearly 6,000 people. Others, hyperbolically, said that this reflected an innate sexism and prejudice against Mizrahi Jews (Shasha-Biton’s mother is of Moroccan origin, and her father’s is Iraqi).
And others said that this was simply not a dignified manner in which the prime minister should address his opponents, as bitter rivals as they may be.
Ironically, Netanyahu’s comment seemed like a paragon of virtue compared to a United Torah Judaism election advertisement broadcast Wednesday against the recent High Court of Justice decision to allow Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel for the purpose of obtaining citizenship under the Law of Return.
The distasteful and racist ad begins with the words “bark mitzvah” and flashes pictures of dogs variously wearing kippot (skullcaps), tallitot (prayer shawls) and tefillin. A broadcaster announces that according to the High Court of Justice, these dogs are all Jewish.
One picture shows a dog in a tallit looking over a holy book. The announcer asks if he is a Jew: “Certainly – his grandmother was a rabbi.”
The 28-second clip ends with the words: “Only United Torah Judaism will guard your Judaism and that of your children and grandchildren.”
This insulting advertisement is a disgrace. The haredi parties have the full right to disagree, even vehemently, with the court decision. But what they do not have the right to do is make fun or belittle the religious convictions or beliefs of others.
“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow,” Hillel was quoted as saying in the Talmud. Just a month ago the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community was up in arms over a parody of Rabbi Chaim Kanievky, a Torah sage widely esteemed by the haredi community, on the satirical Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country) television show.
UTJ MK Moshe Gafni called on his party members not to respond to the parody, but said that the creators of it “should burn in hell.” One of Kanievsky’s grandchildren said the portrayal “hurt a lot of people” who venerate his grandfather, and Shas MK Moshe Arbel said “the people of Eretz Nehederet have not only harmed the honor of Rabbi Kanievsky, but also a huge public of Masorati, religious and ultra-Orthodox people who adore Torah greats.”
And then, less than a month later, UTJ went ahead and did exactly what many in the haredi community had protested against: mocked the religious convictions of others.
It is difficult to fathom the thinking behind the advertisement. What did UTJ hope to accomplish by creating it? Does it really think this will bring it votes? That people are going to now run out and vote UTJ because it portrayed Conservative and Reform Jews as dogs? And even if it really believes that it can build itself up only by putting others down, is it worth it?
UTJ MKs and spokesmen often speak of how the unity of the Jewish people is so important to them, and how one of the reasons that non-halachic conversion cannot be allowed in Israel is that it would drive a wedge between Jews, with some unwilling to marry others.
So does this advertisement contribute to Jewish unity? Does this advertisement, which fosters ridicule, add to the lofty principle of ahavat Yisrael, love for one’s fellow Jew?
The advertisement came a day after UTJ MK Yitzhak Pindrus outrageously said that a female soldier who converts through the IDF’s conversion court is a “shiksa,” a derogatory word for non-Jewish women. He went even further and said that the father of a man who marries such a convert should “sit shiva, tear his clothes and recite kaddish” in mourning.
Pindrus had the good sense a few hours later, after his words ignited outrage, to walk them back and apologize. UTJ should do the same over its odious ad.