by Jonathan Rosenblum
Baltimore Jewish Times
November 2, 2001
Israel Reform leader Uri Regev may have achieved a new low in the exploitation of tragedy for partisan political gain in a recent speech to a Cleveland temple. Regev accused the ultra-Orthodox community Israel of seeking "to get rid of infidels" in the same manner that Islamic extremists seek to purify the Middle East. Cleveland Jewish News city editor Ellen Harris summarized her interview with Regev and his speech: "Regev outlined a chilling parallel between Islamic and Israeli [religious] extremists."
That shocking comparison generated nationwide attention. Those caught in flagrente delicto insinuating darkly about others do not relish having light shone on them, and Regev issued the predictable disclaimer that he was quoted out of context. The reporter neglected to report, he said, his disclaimer that he was not talking about all Orthodox Jews, or even all ultra-Orthodox Jews.
That, of course, was a complete red herring. No one accused Regev of talking about all Orthodox Jews. Harris explicitly noted that he was referring to the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) population. And to say that not all ultra-Orthodox are hate-filled, violence-prone "fundamentalists" is not saying much. Even among the Palestinians, only 76% support suicide bombing.
Regev clearly intended his listeners to associate the haredi community in Israel with Palestinian suicide bombers and those who rammed jumbo jets into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. 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 human life was the "necessity to fight religious zealots on both the Palestinian and Israeli side."
After quoting from the sermon of a Palestinian clergyman in which he called on the faithful to kill all Jews everywhere, Regev immediately drew the comparison to Israel where "we have our own religious extremists . . . spreading the venom of religious fundamentalism."
The portrait of violent haredim is a standard of anti-religious propaganda in Israel. Prior to the massive haredi demonstration against the Supreme Court two years ago, the Israeli press warned of streets running with blood and the Supreme Court under siege. What a shock when hundreds of thousands gathered, recited Psalms for two hours, and went home, not even reacting when a scantily clad couple wandered through the crowd to provoke.
Ironically, Regev himself offers the most effective refutation of the image of the violent haredim. Given the intensity of haredi education, the number of years spent in yeshiva studies, and the hundreds of thousands who have passed through that educational system, if haredi society was so filled with hatred for non-Orthodox Jews, one would expect thousands of acts of violence against non-Orthodox Jews by haredim. After all, the calls for jihad in the Palestinian media and around the Moslem world have resulted in the murders of thousands.
Yet despite employing a full-time team to drudge up dirt on his ultra-Orthodox political opponents, Regev can barely find one example of haredi violence committed by anyone who grew up and was educated in that world. The nearest he comes is the trashing of the apartment of two Christian missionaries who settled in Meah Shearim, the most insular ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in the world, and the abuse of non-Orthodox Jews praying at the back of the Western Wall plaza on Shavuot morning by a group of a few dozen youth out of tens of thousands of religious Jews praying at the Wall.
I have myself written scathing opeds against the latter acts in both the Jerusalem Post and mainstream chareidi publications. An editorial in the ultra-Orthodox daily Yated Neeman called those who use any kind of violence a "dangerous weed that must be uprooted." And posters signed by the leading rabbinic authorities reiterating the seriousness of the prohibition against harming another Jew or causing him monetary damage were posted in all chareidi neighborhoods.
The truth is anti-religious incitement and violence is a much greater problem in Israel than the opposite. Did Regev tell his Cleveland audience that Orthodox institutions in Israel are far more likely to be vandalized than Reform ones? In 1997-98 alone, there were 32 such incidents in which synagogues were set on fire and/or holy books torn, burned, or smeared with excrement.
Former Knesset member and left-wing darling Uri Avineri recommends "storm[ing] Meah Shearim with machine guns and mowing them down. The opening of a national religious kindergarten in Kfar Sava is greeted with posters around the city urging "exterminate haredim at birth." And prize-winning sculptor Yigal Tumarkin remarks that when he sees a large haredi family he understands the Nazis.
Has Uri Regev ever stood up and publicly condemned such virulent hatred? Did he tell his Cleveland audience that the lesson of the lost lives on September 11 is that we must stamp out "secular fundamentalism"?
No. That would have served neither his fundraising nor his political agenda.
Uri Regev has every right to advocate that Israel recognize any definition of "Who is a Jew" offered by any Jew in the world, resulting in an endless multiplicity of standards. (His own Israeli Reform movement, for instance, does not recognize patrilineal descent, even though the American branch of Reform does.) He is surely entitled to be ticked off at those who dismiss Reform as a falsification of Judaism and to refute them to the best of his ability.
He is not entitled, however, to trivialize the radical evil practiced and preached by Palestinians against Jews in Israel and by other Moslem fanatics against the entire Western world with obscene comparisons between Islamic fanatics and his fellow Jews.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Pluralism
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