Saturday, December 31

Religious Extremism in Israel

BEIT SHEMESH, ISRAEL - DECEMBER 25: (Israel ou...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
BEIT SHEMESH, ISRAEL - DECEMBER 25:  (Israel o...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
What next?

A direct line
Leads from
The anti-democratic legislation
In the Knesset,
Through the violent rampage
Of the settlers
In the West Bank,
To the fanatical hooliganism
In Beit Shemesh.

What next?

Published in “Haaretz” - Gush Shalom, December 30, 2011

The past few weeks we have all witnessed the specter of religious fanaticism in full force in Israel. We are all aware of the return to religion in Israel as the Israeli Electorate move further to the right.

The despicable discrimination against women based on religious grounds, justified in the guise of “modesty” based on Torah teachings on the one hand, as well as desecration of mosques and destruction of IDF property on the other.

In my previous article, I discussed the "Price Tag" violence by religious "hill top" youth - the offspring of the loutish settler movement which became an embarrassment to the Netanyahu Government coalition. The official reaction was that this is not "mainstream settler ideology just a small minority". The point was missed entirely. These religious right wing hooligans got their education from right wing rabbinical indoctrination in Yeshivot in the occupied territories. The teaching of fundamental Judaism and hate for the Arabs became part of their education curriculum in these Yeshivot.

The last few weeks we were witnesses to discrimination against women by Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox) in East Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh. It started getting ugly and violent.

The Mea Shearim Quarter in Jerusalem is the home of various Haredi groups such as Eda Haredit, Toldot Aharon and various other sects that refuse to recognize Israel.

These religious fanatics breed like flies and their numbers burst beyond the confines of the Mea Shearim Quarter. They found a new home in Bet Shemesh - a town that is pluralistic with modern Orthodox, moderate Ultra-Orthodox and secular people. 

These religious fanatics decided to take over and coerce the citizens of Bet Shemesh into adapting their life-style. They started demanding discrimination against women on the sidewalks, buses and public places. They cursed women, who in their eyes, dressed immodestly. They even spat at women who did not abide by Haredi "rules of modesty". The situation in Bet Shemesh became unbearable and even little pre-teen schoolgirls were threatened by Haredi violence and abuse.

The handwriting was on the wall for many years. However, under the Netanyahu Government coalition, hell and brimstone broke loose. It is obvious that the phenomena of right wing "Price-Tag" violence against Palestinians and Haredi violence against women share much in common. It seems a coincidence that both groups created violence more or less at the same time.

Both groups believe that what they are doing has the blessing of the Almighty, they have been given a large leeway over the years for their brand of Judaism which is akin to hooliganism and intolerance intermingled with a despicable racism unknown in Jewish history.

The blame for these negative religious trends must be laid at the door of the Netanyahu Government with its extremist right wing coalition partners. These partners are Torah Judaism, Shas, Yisrael Beitenu, Ichud Leumi, and a host of other splinter parties that are illegal settler- oriented.

They have created a monster that has gone out of control. Even the police do not have the power to bring order to a situation that is becoming unmanageable.

I cannot help thinking of the Pledge of Allegiance Bill initiated by Israel Beitenu demanding an Oath of Loyalty be sworn by Israel's non-Jewish citizens that Israel must be recognized as a Jewish State in order to become citizens. The Haredi religious fanatics and the "hill top youth" are damaging Israel's world image. Why are they are exempt from the Oath and get away with this loutish behaviour? Hardly anyone has been arrested. The Eda Haredit does not even recognize Israel's right to exist! Their ally is President Ahmadinajad of Iran! The reaction of PM Netanyahu over these despicable incidents has been weak in order to maintain his coalition at all costs. It has almost been apologetic. Arrests have been rare in both cases.

This is hardly surprising bearing in mind the many bills being discussed in the Knesset that are threatening Israel's once healthy and vibrant democracy. Maintaining Israel's identity as a Jewish state takes priority over maintaining Israel's democracy.

Israel's citizens are becoming more religious and right wing and this will erode democracy even further. If elections were held tomorrow the elected government with its religious partners will be more right wing and paranoid than the present one.

Israel stands a chance of increased isolation in the world. The "hill top youth" and Haredi violence share a common denominator and that is their hooliganism and the impotence of the present government to come to terms with the religious monsters that they have created.

Lip service against these trends is not enough. Action speaks louder than words!
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