by Jonathan Rosenblum
November 30, 2001
Sometimes the hypocrisy in Israel becomes too much to take. The way events are viewed depends almost entirely on whose ox is gored.
Last week Foreign Minister Shimon Peres announced that he plans to lodge a formal complaint in the UN over a satirical skit on Abu Dhabi TV portraying Prime Minister Ariel Sharon drinking the blood of Arab children.
That complaint, unfortunately, would carry more force if such satirical skits depicting Jews feasting on others did not also appear on Israel TV. A few years ago, the popular Hartzufim troupe ran a skit on Channel Two in which two haredi diners in a restaurant ask the waiter, "How is the hiloni [secular Jew] today?" Looking over the menu, one asks: "Do you have any hiloni brains?" To which the waiter replies: "If the hilonim had brains, would they let you do this to them?"
We protest the blood libels of others while laughing at our own.
On the very eve of the 1999 elections, a middle-aged Likud campaign worker died after a physical confrontation with some much younger Labor party workers. The press responded by urging the public not to prejudge the event or let it influence their votes.
Had the parties been reversed, however, the incident would have been the subject of screaming headlines, and the columnists would have had a field day with the "well-known" connection between Likud thugs and European neo-fascists.
Last week, Rabbi Yehuda Samet, a 71-year-old haredi man, died after having been pushed against a police van by the owner of a photo store in a largely haredi neighborhood. The victim had been passing by the store on his way to yeshiva, during a peaceful protest against the sale and rental of pornographic videos to young haredi boys. He approached the storeowner, who was scuffling with one of the protesters. Infuriated, the storeowner shoved him towards an adjacent police van. No editorial writers tore kriya over the event, and the storeowner was soon out on bail. Imagine if the storeowner had been haredi. Bail would have been denied punitively, and he would have sat in jail for months prior to trial.
In the summer of 1999, a Conservative synagogue in Ramot was victimized by arson. The Knesset devoted a special session to a discussion of the incident, and the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, meeting in Jerusalem, visited the synagogue in a show of solidarity.
Media coverage was extensive, with every major paper devoting at least one editorial to the event.
How different was the reaction two weeks ago, when a Sefer Torah and other holy books were burned in a synagogue in Sde Boker, and another Sefer Torah, valued at $100,000, was stolen. No major paper commented editorially, and media coverage was minimal.
The same was true a few weeks earlier, when a caravan housing a religious kindergarten was burned to the ground in Petah Tikva and the synagogue attached to a youth hostel near Tiberias was torched.
After the arson in Ramot, the media was quick to assume that the perpetrators were haredim (which they were not) and that the cause was incitement in the haredi press against heterodox wings of Judaism.
An oped writer in Ha'aretz opined: "There is absolutely no question... that these physical acts have their roots in the inflammatory rhetoric attacking the non-Orthodox movements that has gone unchecked for years."
About the arson of religious institutions, however, no one was in the mood to ask: Could the continual incitement against the haredi community in the secular press and by secular politicians have led to the arson?
Every anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin is dedicated to the theme "words can kill," and left-wing politicians regularly hurl the term "inciter" at the Right as a thunderbolt. This week Motti Golan laid the blame for the Rabin assassination on haredi incitement, though it is hard to imagine a shred of evidence for that claim.
Soul-searching about the effect of anti-religious incitement, however, is not on the branja's agenda. Hebrew University professor Moshe Zimmerman (who has himself likened young settlers to the Hitler youth) admits that the "images of haredim found in the secular press are drawn from classical anti-Semitic sources, including the Nazis."
The Nazis used germ metaphors to describe Jews, and the Jerusalem weekly Kol Ha'ir once interviewed an expert in infectious diseases on how to protect against haredim.
Anti-Semites have always portrayed the Jews as profiting from the suffering of their host country.
Two years ago, a play by an Israeli playwright premiered in Germany. The chorus consisted of haredi members of the burial society praying for continued war so that there would be plenty of work.
Recently Shinui Knesset Member Yosef Paritzky levelled a similar charge in Yediot Aharonot: "There has never been a happier time for the haredi population than the war of the last year... which diverts attention while they continue eating from the public trough."
Not so long ago, Israel's premier theater featured a play about two elderly Auschwitz survivors who are killed in the conflagration when haredim set fire to their non-kosher butcher shop. Message: the haredim are worse than Hitler; where he failed, they succeeded.
Virulent hatred of haredim is mainstream. Leading industrialist Stef Wertheimer once called for riots to prevent haredim from voting. Columnist Yonatan Gefen proclaims that the time has come for a secular intifada, and offers to throw the first stone.
Gush Shalom leader Uzi Avineri announces: "The time has come to bury them."
It is impossible to draw a bright line from any such statement to a particular act of violence against haredim, but such statements create an environment in which acts of violence against religious Jews becomes acceptable.
The Sde Boker arsonist admitted that he was influenced by documentaries of other young Israelis attacking religious Jews.
Maybe the time has come for all those who are so eager to lecture about the lethal potential of words to examine their own and to consider the consequences.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Israeli Society
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