The incitement double-standard
by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 21, 2003
The Movement for Fairness in Government (MFG) petitioned the High Court of Justice this week to declare that Yosef (Tommy) Lapid and Yossi Paritzky are unfit to serve as ministers by virtue of Shinui's incitement against the haredi population.
MFG director Motti Eisenberg is one of the few kippa-wearers to successfully exploit the power of the court. In recent years he has successfully petitioned to force the army to appoint a chief chaplain, and the city of Tel Aviv to appoint a chief rabbi.
The threat of another court petition by Eisenberg convinced the Israel Broadcasting Authority to back down from its opposition to a series of radio ads extolling the recitation of Psalms.
While Eisenberg's latest petition would have no chance in the United States, where freedom of speech is much more robust than in Israel, he makes a strong case in the context of Israel's own free-speech jurisprudence. In 1999, the Supreme Court banned the Moledet-Gesher list in Upper Nazareth. The party's appeals to the growing fear of the "domination of the Arab population over the homes and lots of Jews in Upper Nazareth" were deemed racist.
Haredim are to Shinui what Arabs are to Moledet. Fear of "haredi domination," characterized as "the greatest danger" facing Israel today, is the focus of Shinui's message. The Shinui local campaign in Kiryat Ono, for instance, calls for an end to the sale of houses to haredim. That call echoes Moledet's propaganda urging that Arabs have no place in Upper Nazareth.
Shinui's descriptions of haredim as barbaric primitives; idle fanatics who view work as demeaning; enemies of progress and enlightenment; parasites who suck the marrow from the country are hardly less likely to "arouse hatred and strife between various groups in the population" than Binyamin Kahane's description of Umm el-Fahm as a "vipers' nest," for which he was convicted by the Supreme Court.
In the end, however, Eisenberg's petition will be rejected. Shinui's epithets have become too much part of common parlance to punish. Thus when Beersheba magistrate Oded Alyagon referred to haredim as "lice" in the presence of court president Aharon Barak, the latter saw nothing untoward about the speech, and even complimented Alyagon on his words. Subsequently, Barak sought to appoint Alyagon to the Tel Aviv District Court, though he later withdrew the nomination.
The media-savvy Shinui leader draws from a deep well of anti-haredi stereotypes developed by the media over the years. When it comes to coverage of the haredi community, all journalistic standards fly out the window.
A FEW years ago, Yediot Aharonot described how a rabbinical court ordered a Kohen to divorce his wife after she was raped by foreign workers. Only when haredi publicist Dudi Zilbershlag contacted the reporter to connect the couple to a rabbi who could help them did it emerge that no such couple existed.
By that time, the story had been picked up by major American papers and been the subject of a demonstration in front of the Tel Aviv rabbinate.
A large headline in Ma'ariv recently proclaimed "Seculars attacked on the streets of Bnei Brak." The accompanying story began, "It is not recommended for secular Jews to walk on the streets of Bnei Brak at night lest they be beaten by a private security company hired by the residents of the city." The clear implication was that Bnei Brak had hired a security company to keep its streets free of secular Jews.
In fact, a private security company was hired to deal with an ongoing problem of youth gangs who were terrorizing haredi youth in a particular area. There was no sanction, rabbinical or otherwise, for preventing secular Jews from shopping in Bnei Brak. Yet this implausible claim was picked up by all the morning talk shows.
A February 11 story in Yediot describes how a mailman was hospitalized after being beaten by residents of Mea She'arim who considered the picture on the Home Front Command pamphlet he was distributing immodest. The only problem - it never happened. Mailman Motti Vigdon told the haredi weekly Mishpacha that he was very friendly with those on his regular route, and there was no confrontation. Some neighborhood residents objected to the pamphlet, and, after consulting his supervisor, Vigdon stopped distributing it. But when Vigdon contacted radio and TV to correct the false report, he found no interest.
Few subjects so intrigue the Israeli media as the Nahal Haredi army unit. Thus when a terrorist successfully infiltrated the Jordan Valley settlement of Hamra, home to a Nahal Haredi base, and killed a mother and daughter, it was big news. All the papers headlined the dismissal of the Nahal battalion's commander after an army investigation and described the failure to kill the lone terrorist for over an hour as a "grave embarrassment" for the haredi unit.
What the newspapers missed was that not one of the soldiers at the scene was from the haredi unit; the infiltrator entered the moshav past a group of reserve soldiers. In addition, the dismissed commander was a Golani veteran, not a product of Nahal Haredi.
Contrary to the media image of bumbling haredi soldiers, Nahal commanders are full of praise for the unit's fighting capacities. In recent months, Nahal soldiers conducted extensive house-to-house searches in the Palestinian town of Tubas, nabbing many terrorists. Two weeks ago a Nahal unit killed a terrorist seeking to enter Hamra.
Each of these botched stories reinforced a particular stereotype about the haredi community - the heartless Halacha, haredim as violence-prone haters of secular Jews, haredim as cowards. None of these familiar stereotypes, however, does as much damage as that of haredim as bloodsuckers.
The classic in that genre was a Haaretz expose by resident haredi-hunter Shahar Ilan, entitled "A kollel student's [benefits] basket contains NIS 17,000."
How did Ilan arrive at his picture of the average haredi family? He assumed a family of 12, in which the mother does not work, all the children are under 18, and two live in dormitory institutions. He then added all the benefits this "average" family receives in transfer payments and discounts on property tax and tuitions, and came to a total of NIS 10,000. To that sum he added another NIS 7,000 shekels - the income tax one pays to take home NIS 10,000 shekels. That bogus accounting trick upped the ante 70% by double-counting both transfer payments and discounts.
Ilan's "average" family is virtually nonexistent. Eight, much less 10, children under 18 is well above the average for kollel families. Most dormitory institutions cater to secular children; only a small percentage of haredi children live in such institutions. (The cost of dormitories was almost one-third of Ilan's total government outlays.)
And a large percentage of haredi families qualify neither for the income supplement payments nor tax discounts that figure prominently in his calculations. Finally, Ilan failed to note that all but NIS 1,650 of the transfer payments were monies all large families, not just haredim, receive.
Shoddy, sensationalist journalism? Yes. Effective? Unfortunately.
And that is why, no matter what Tommy Lapid says, we have all heard it somewhere before.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Israeli Society
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