Embrace those who are different
The religious public, which normally excels in social activism, volunteerism and impressive charity toward the unfortunate, has remained silent - if not downright hostile - toward large sectors of the population, and especially those that require support and nurturing.
As these lines are being written, it is not yet known who perpetrated the murder at the gay-lesbian youth club. What is clear, however, is that the murder has brought the issue of society's attitude toward this group more to the fore than ever before. And on this issue, there is no doubt that the religious sector, especially the ultra-Orthodox, has the most problematic attitude, as can be seen from the Haaretz-Dialog poll published yesterday.
Even if there are still many secular parents who have difficulty legitimizing their children's different sexual leanings, it is members of the Haredi community (and especially supporters of Shas, who are generally considered the less extreme wing of ultra-Orthodoxy), who use particularly harsh language to attack homosexuals. Moreover, on the rare occasions when attacks come from people identified as secular (such as Menahem Ben, Ariel Silber and the late Meir Ariel), they are for the most part secular people with leanings toward the religious world.
When this fact is put together with the alienation religious circles display toward the refugees from Darfur, the foreign workers' children and the Arab public (not just on the issue of a Palestinian state, but on the issue of civil rights for Israeli Arabs), the resulting picture is gloomy. The religious public, which normally excels in social activism, volunteerism and impressive charity toward the unfortunate, has remained silent - if not downright hostile - toward large sectors of the population, and especially those that require support and nurturing.
The division of labor in social activism is quite clear: The religious take care of other religious people, and quite often other Jews in general, as long as they have a "normative" identity. But when it comes to caring for those who are different - non-Jews, or Jews whose sexual leanings are different from the norm - the work falls almost solely to secular activists. Until a few years ago, when the Maaglei Tzedek organization was set up, even the protection of workers' rights in Israel was solely in secular hands.
The religious public obviously stands at the head of those who wave the banner of a "Jewish state." But this picture points to a very problematic understanding of this term. In fact, it points to a Diaspora-style heritage of suspicion toward the other. It is the heritage of a minority that always felt the need to build high walls to protect its identity - not only from "the Gentiles," but also by obsessive examinations of the "loyalty" and "kashrut" of those within (as the debate over conversion in recent years has showed).
The fact that we have a sovereign state with external borders and a Jewish majority should not only have freed us of this obsession, but should even have sharpened our feelings of responsibility toward the population at large - including the non-Jews, the nonreligious and the non-heterosexual. Unfortunately, as the years go by, the obsession with separatism only has intensified among some religious groups. And, even worse, they exploit their demographic and political strength to try to force such separatism onto others as well.
This does not mean that Israel must divest itself of its national character and adopt a "universal" character, unlike any other country (except perhaps the United States, which has turned universal character into its own national character). Nor does it mean that the religious public has to forgo the principles of halakha (Jewish law). People who follow halakha cannot ignore the prohibition against homosexuality, but they can regard it like any other halakhic prohibition: Just as they have no problem respecting desecrators of the Sabbath, and even try to bring them closer to religion, they should not recoil from doing the same with homosexuals. Similarly, they need not embrace every illegal foreign worker and try to get them to stay here, but they ought to embrace refugees who face a threat of death if they return home, or foreign workers who came here legally and worked for us with love and respect in fields where many Israeli refuse to work.