Who should be afraid of Tommy Lapid?
by Jonathan Rosenblum
January 24, 2003
The haredi community has good cause to fear the evident popularity of Tommy Lapid’s agenda, both in terms of what it augurs for the economic viability of the community’s main institutions and for the Jewish character of the state. Shinui’s meteoric rise will serve as shock treatment and provoke much needed soul searching among haredim.
At the end of the day, however, the Lapid phenomena should scare secular Israelis no less. Lapid has provided us iwth a chilling snapshot of our national psyche. Shinui’s rise is first and foremost a reflection of the despair of the Israeli electorate. Though Prime Minister Sharon remains the preferred choice for prime minister by an overwhelming margin, only 26% of those surveyed feel he has a solution to the problem of Palestinian terror. Confidence is no higher in his ability to manage the deteriorating economy. No wonder that a week before the elections, nearly half those polled either refuse to specify a preference or say they are undecided.
Shinui makes no pretense of having solutions to the major security and economic challenges confronting Israel, apart from blaming the haredim for every budgetary shortfall. Given the seriousness of those problems, a vote for Shinui only makes one sense if one has totally despaired of finding any solutions to the country’s most pressing problems. At that point, why not treat oneself to the pleasure of sticking it to the haredim?
Historically, collective despair has always proven a fertile breeding ground for messianic movements, both secular and religious. Oslo, for instance, was the product of the shock of the first intifada. And there are signs today, as well, of a public still in search of a magic wand with which to solve all our problems. The idea of a wall dividing Israel from her Palestinian neighbors is but the most popular current idea, though virtually the entire security community views such a wall as a recipe for disaster.
The Lapid phenomena further reflects a widespread alienation, particularly among the young, from all things Jewish. One does not need to be a hater of Jews to be sympathetic to Lapid’s issues, and indeed much of Lapid support comes from those simply fed up with the major parties.
But Lapid goes far beyond his issues; he seeks to arouse a visceral hatred of chareidim, and delights in expressing his contempt for every aspect of Jewish tradition. Lapid shamelessly traffics in the same stereotypes of haredim that anti-Semites once employed vis-à-vis all Jews. His portrayal of kashrut certification, for instance, as a tax on consumers – rather than as an advertising expense designed to lower per unit costs by increasing demand – can be found today on neo-Nazi websites as well.
Lapid is an inciter. After the Dophinarium bombing, he filled the airwaves on Shabbat with the baseless charge that the burial society had refused to bury the victims and compared the burial society to the Islamic jihad: "The Islamic jihad attacks live youths while the burial society strikes at dead youths by refusing to bury them."
Shinui is even more popular among the educated young than among the general population. Lapid is "cool." The attraction to hatemongering against fellow Jews reflects the degree to which our young are cut off from any sense of themselves as Jews.
No wonder Israeli soldiers can sit down to play cards after a visit to Auschwitz and Israeli teenagers hire the lowest lewd entertainment after touring the death camps. They feel no connection to those who were incinerated there.
A few years ago, students in an elite Tel Aviv high school could not tell a TV interviewer how Israel came to be in the Golan Heights. And if events of little more than thirty years ago are unknown to them, how much more so the broad panorama of Jewish history. As Hillel Halkin lamented, reviewing in Commentary a textbook produced by the Ministry of Education, "There are many words missing here, the smallest of which is `we’. Nowhere is the ninth-grader reminded that he belongs to the people he is reading about; . . . that their story is his story."
The Palestinians’ belief that the future belongs to them derives in large measure from their view that Israelis have lost a sense of themselves as a people rooted in this Land. That is why Arafat placed such an emphasis at Camp David on Israeli renunciation of sovereignty over the Temple Mount. He rightly saw that if Israelis were to abase themselves by admitting that the Temple Mount is more important to Moslems than to Jews another dramatic cut would have been made in the chords binding us to our history. (The leading Israeli negotiator on Jerusalem issues at Camp David has subsequently written in Ha’aretz that the Temple Mount is, and has been perceived as such by all major Zionist leaders, an unwanted burden.)
The pervasive lack of hope among the Israeli population and its lack of sense of its own place in the history of the Jewish people are not unrelated phenomena. Those lacking any vision of what brought us to this Land, any sense of themselves as the bearers of a glorious tradition, can see no real purpose in perservering.They will fight the Palestinians because they have no wish to leave the land in which they were born or to commit suicide.
But at some point, without some positive vision of Jews in Eretz Yisrael, they will ask themselves whether the struggle is worth it and head for safer places. Among the upper socio-economic strata to which Lapid has exclusively pitched his message, many are doing so already.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Israeli Society
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