Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Israel at a Crossroads

Shalom from Deerfield Beach, Florida. I'm visiting my mom; she's holding her own, thank God. The weather's gorgeous. I can run in my summer clothing. If I lived here all year I wouldn't have to be on antidepressants. But I'd still be angry as hell over what's going on in Israel. When we speak of Israel at a crossroads and facing an existential threat, we usually refer to outside military threats. We have enough of those, but now we have an existential threat from within. This is nothing new either; 2000 years ago instead of coming together to fight the Romans we fought one another and played right into the Romans' hands.
Today's threat from within is centered in Beit Shemesh and certain neighborhoods (Jewish, not Arab) in Jerusalem. Certain Jewish fanatics who call themselves Sikrikim, after the ultra-Zealots in Roman times who carried short knives (Sicarii) concealed in their cloaks (talk about cloak-and-dagger) took it on themselves to curse, spit and throw objects at little girls leaving a religious Zionist school in Beit Shemesh. They say the girls are not dressed modestly; they are, but not to the standards of the Sikrikim. And if they weren't, would that give anybody the right to physically and verbally assault them? Not in any free country. The fanatics moved to Beit Shemesh from Jerusalem when the latter became too crowded and /or too expensive. Beit Shemesh was already populated mostly by English-speaking immigrants of a more Zionist bent, Americans who bring American values when they make aliya, but that doesn't stop the "religious" hooligans from doing in Beit Shemesh what they did in Me'ah She'arim. They also try to enforce gender segregation on public buses and make men and women walk on opposite sides of public streets. The situation is such that the United States State Department issued a formal advisory that American citizens shouldn't visit "ultra-Orthodox" neighborhoods in "immodest dress." The advisory does not define what constitutes immodest dress; I suppose one can ask the eight-year-old girl who was spat upon and called a whore. How's that for a hillul Hashem? Now the police promised to arrest anyone harassing schoolchildren and the situation is quiet, but how long will that last?
True to form, the larger haredi community tries to pass this latest outrage off as the act of an irresponsible lunatic fringe. That may be true, but the silence from the "responsible" haredi Rabbinic leadership is deafening. Not a peep out of them. Imagine if the Aurbachs, Elyashivs, Kanievskies, et. al. were to go to Beit Shemesh and escort those girls to and from school. That would show the Sikrikim and everybody else that the assaults and invective against Jewish children are anti-Torah and will not be tolerated. Imagine if wall posters went up in all the affected areas that anybody engaged in such despicable behavior should be ostracized, boycotted, refused kibbudim in synagogues and such. Those greybeards were quick enough to put up posters condemning Rabbi Slifkin.
And whatever happened to men's obligation to protect women? The mothers of the assaulted children went to the media and let the outrages be known. Where were their fathers and brothers? If any strong healthy men would have given the fanatics what-for, that would have been the end of it. Those leeches and bloodsuckers are brave enough to beat up women and children, but when it comes to defending the country from its enemies, nobody's home. When it comes to honest work to support their families, ditto.
Israelis must decide, before too many suns set, what kind of a country they wish to have. Do they want a liberal democracy like the United States or do they want a theocratic stink hole like Iran? Do they want to be part of the open world or the closed world? Ben Gurion in his day chose loud and clear. Israel would be part of the open world, and all Israelis except for a handful of religious nuts agreed. Now the nuts are numerous enough to reopen the question. If we choose a theocratic stink hole, we cannot expect the unstinting and bipartisan support of Congress to the tune of millions of dollars when the United States is running a monumental deficit. Will the U.S. support a country where its female Secretary of State might theoretically be told to sit in the back of the bus? I think not.
I also think that a majority of Israelis will still throw in their lot with democracy and the West. What is needed is for the Religious Zionist community to loudly and clearly reject the haredi authority figures and make common cause with the secularists to keep Israel democratic and free. Then we will have a secular-and -Religious-Zionist majority in the Knesset. Draft exemptions for haredim will be sharply curtailed, as will subsidies for yeshivot that teach sedition and for able-bodied men who choose not to work. The police will enforce the law without fear, favor or corruption, and lunatic fringes will be relegated to the fringe, as they should be.

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