Preserving the lifeboat
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Jerusalem Post International Edition
June 15, 2001
Two weeks ago, Gideon Spiro, a columnist in the Jerusalem weekly Kol Hazman, offered the Palestinians advice about how to achieve their ``just goals": Kamikaze attacks on settlements and army bases. All he asked is exchange was that Arafat spare the shopping malls on his side of the Green Line.
Either the Palestinians don’t subscribe to Kol Hazman or else they were not enthusiastic about Sapir’s suggestion that they confine their attacks to settlers and soldiers. Or so it would seem from last Friday’s suicide bombing outside a disco in the heart of Tel Aviv, which has thus far claimed 20 lives..
We are all in this together – even Sapir. All of us potential targets – anywhere, anytime.
Some, however, reject even the slim consolation of the unity of the lifeboat. All Shabbat, Tommy Lapid, head of the rabidly anti-religious Shinui party, and two Russian-speaking Labor MKs, Sofa Landver and Roman Bronfman, filled the media with charges that the Tel Aviv burial society had refused to bury non-Jewish victims of the blast. .
With typical demagogic flourish, Lapid compared the chevra kadisah to the Islamic jihad, which initially claimed credit for the bomber: ``The Islamic jihad is attacking live youths while the burial society strikes at dead youths by refusing to bury them."
The charge that the burial society was refusing to bury non-Jewish youths was entirely false. Yet Lapid’s charges were broadcast both locally and around the world, without reporters even waiting until after Shabbat to verify them with the burial society.
Saturday night, an outraged Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau labelled Lapid, Landver, and Bronfman for what they are: cynical politicians exploiting the victims of a terrible tragedy for their own political purposes. Lapid’s Shinui party has only one issue – hatred of the Orthodox. And he has long identified the population of recent Russian immigrants – 30-40% of whom are not Jewish and all of whom were denied any connection to their Judaism under 70 years of Communism – as his natural constituency.
Bronfman and Landver have based their political careers on rallying Russian immigrants to the Left. Their problem is that the Russians tend to be right-wing, and overwhelmingly so since the complete breakdown of Oslo, so poignantly symbolized by last Friday’s suicide bomber. Only by stirring hatred of the Orthodox can they hope to reestablish themselves in the eyes of their constituents.
True, the mass immigration of hundreds of thousands of non-Jews over the past decade created a major problem with respect to burial. Since the creation of the State, burial has been within the domain of the various religious communities – Jewish, Christian and Moslem. And many of the immigrants do not fall within any community.
But the Left did nothing to solve this problem when they were in power from 1992 to 1996. Like the Arabs, who have kept Palestinian refugees in squalid refugee camps for over fifty years as a permanent strike force against Israel, certain politicians preferred fomenting the anger of immigrants at the lack of adequate burial facilities.
Nothing improved until 1996, when Yisrael B’Aliyah led by Natan Sharansky took over the Absorption Ministry. Based on his experience in the refusenik movement, Sharansky has always viewed Jewish identity as the key to successful immigration. Often at great political cost to himself, he has sought to prevent tensions between the new immigrants and the religious establishment.
In Sharansky’s world view, consensus is the ultimate desideratum and the greatest source of national strength. As a matter of principle, he pursues practical solutions that take into account the sensitivities of all involved.
Immediately upon assuming control of the Absorption Ministry, Sharansky and Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein began working in earnest with the Chief Rabbis to solve the problem of inadequate cemeteries for non-Jewish immigrants. They did so in a way mindful not only of the sensitivities of new immigrants, many whom live in mixed Jewish and non-Jewish families, but also of all those Jews buried today in Israeli cemeteries, who would never have agreed to be buried anywhere other than a Jewish cemetery.
As a consequence of those efforts, 25 specially demarcated areas designated for non-Jews were created adjacent to Jewish cemeteries around the country. Plots were already available to receive the non-Jewish victims of Friday night’s blast, and the burial society went immediately to work on Saturday night preparing the bodies for respectful burial.
The question confronting Israeli society today is whether we will seek pragmatic solutions, like that found by the Chief Rabbinate, or allow the sowers of hatred to dictate the agenda.
If we are to preserve even the unity of the lifeboat, our answer better be the former.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics
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