Are there any limits?
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Jerusalem Post Int'l Edition
November 2, 2001
For years, the Israeli Reform movement has raised money in America by portraying Reform Jews in Israeli as besieged by ultra-Orthodox (haredi) fanatics bent on turning Israel into a theocracy. The highlight of that campaign was Reform’s successful lobbying to have Israel listed by the U.S. State Department along with Iraq, Iran, and Algeria as a nation denying religious freedom.
Israeli Reform leader Uri Regev has now ratcheted up the calumny another couple of degrees by comparing the ultra-Orthodox to Islamist terrorists in a speech at a temple in Cleveland. Both, said Regev, seek "to get rid of the infidels." Regev’s obscene comparison represents a new milestone in the exploitation of tragedy for partisan political gain.
Regev wanted his listeners to associate the haredi community in Israel with Palestinian terrorists and those who rammed jumbo jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killing thousands. He began by saying that his topic was dictated by the terrible events of September 11 and concluded that the lesson of the horrible loss of lives was "the necessity to fight religious zealots on both the Palestinian and Israeli side."
Immediately after quoting from the sermon of a Palestinian cleric, in which he called on the faithful to kill all Jews everywhere, Regev told his audience, "we have our own religious extremists . . . spreading the venom of religious fundamentalism."
When Regev’s speech attracted a lot of attention, he protested that he was not talking about all Orthodox Jews. Red herring. No one accused him of smearing all Orthodox Jews. The Cleveland Jewish News reporter explicitly noted that he was speaking about the ultra-Orthodox . Nor was he accused of saying that every haredi Jew is a After all, even among the Palestinians only 76% support suicide bombings.
But reporter Ellen Harris, who both interviewed Regev and quoted at length from his speech, clearly got his message: there is "a chilling parallel between Islamic fundamentalists and Israeli religious extremists."
The image of hate-filled, violent haredim has long been a staple of Reform fundraising. Reform spokesmen to this day continue to accuse "yeshiva students" of burning down a Reform kindergarten in Mevasseret Zion three years ago, despite the abscence of a scintilla of evidence to support that charge.
Ironically, Regev himself provided the best refutation of the image of violent haredim. In an article defending his speech last week, he could barely provide one example of someone educated in the haredi world acting violently against fellow Jews. If haredi Jews were taught to hate their fellow Jews, there should be thousands of such examples, given the intensity and duration of haredi education.
Of course, Regev’s real concern is not with the violent language or even violent actions that are too prevalent in Israel, much of it directed at the haredi population. When one of Israel’s leading columnists fantasized about how he would like "to tie the beards of all the weird [haredi politicians] together and set them on fire," Regev issued no public protest. Ditto when peace activist and former MK Uri Avineri recommended "storm[ing] Meah Shearim with machine guns and mowing them down," or when prize-winning sculptor Yigal Tumarkin expressed understanding for the Nazis whenever he sees a large haredi family.
Had he been honest with his Cleveland audience, Regev would have told them that Orthodox institutions in Israel are far more likely to be vandalized than Reform ones. Last night, the caravan housing a haredi kindergarten in Petah Tikva was burned to the ground. In 1997-98 alone there were 32 instances of Orthodox institutions being set on fire or vandalized and holy books torn, burned, or smeared with excrement.
And certainly Regev’s audience heard nothing about the many health care organizations founded by haredi Jews that serve the general Israeli population. That information too would have confused the image Regev sought to create and done nothing to serve Regev’s political agenda.
Regev is perfectly entitled to advocate for his political agenda – e.g., civil marriage, the recognition of a multiplicity of standards of "Who is a Jew" – but not with obscene comparisons between his fellow Jews and the murderers of thousands.
Jews have rightly fought against the trivialization of the Holocaust by its use to refer to anything of which someone disapproves. So too should we reject the trivialization of the radical evil directed at Jews in Israel and against the entire Western world by Islamic terrorists.
Related Topics: Pluralism
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