Fear of Haredim

Netanyahu's choice of an extreme-right, religious-Haredi coalition is one reason for the current unrest, strengthening the hand of the Haredi religious-Zionist rabbis brings the current whirlwind.

It is difficult not to notice the signs of panic in Israeli society and the media. Everyone uses empty terms like "exclusion of women" and "women singing," while expressing a deep (and understandable ) anxiety lest the current lawlessness permit the most extreme groups to define Israel's character as a reactionary, isolating and ill-intentioned place.

But as always happens in unstable societies, this anxiety has found an expedient target rather than the real one. The real one is political: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's clear choice of an extreme-right, religious-Haredi coalition, and his determination to continue the devil's deal between Likud, which purports to represent liberal-right values, and the Haredi parties, which represent reactionary values (and in most cases have long since ceased representing their voters' needs ), is one reason for the current unrest.

Other expressions of this lawlessness include the "price tag" campaign of the settlers, the shoving-aside of women in the army and the takeover by Haredi religious-Zionist rabbis of the religious-Zionist agenda, from gender separation in schools to the insanity of overly stringent religious observance, to the point that zealous rabbis can interfere in marital relations to the extent of jeopardizing women's lives.

Those who strengthen the hand of the Haredi religious-Zionist rabbis, giving them senior positions in the education system, and who are lenient with mosque-burning criminals, reap the whirlwind. The whirlwind's main victims are the silent majority of the religious population, but it sweeps all of Israeli society along with it.

But anxiety, as we said, seeks a convenient target - hatred of the ultra-Orthodox. How easy it is to hate "the Haredim," especially when they are facing the lovable symbolic figure of a young, innocent girl with fair hair and big large eyes. What the media did to her and her story borders on repulsive voyeurism. And not for the first time: The same thing happened with "the Sephardi girls" in Betar. The secular public, which does not lift a finger in the face of blatant discrimination against women when it comes to wages, work and image; sharing the burden of childcare; the cruel emotional and physical abuse of young girls in the sex trade, is deeply shocked when a young girl in Beit Shemesh is spat at.

How convenient, how romantic, how well it suits the politics of empty images. How useful for Netanyahu, who knows best how to use these empty symbols and turn this conflict, too, into a tool to glorify his image as the caring and liberal father of the nation. He makes declarations, while the public demonstrates on behalf of the girl and is shocked by women being pushed into the back of the bus. And female politicians on the right and the left woke up and formed a new forum for women, "against exclusion."

Bravo! Not that the fight against "exclusion" is not a worthy cause, far from it. But it brings two well-known, linked dangers: that of the spiritually uplifting feeling of "it's not political" or "goes beyond politics," and that of once again using the Haredim as an instrument for venting frustration. The hundreds of thousands of Israelis who took to the streets in protest last summer turned their anger on personnel agencies and cheese wholesalers rather than the government that allows the injustices to happen. Netanyahu handed out a tranquilizer named Manuel Trajtenberg, that faded after it was swallowed.

The public if fully aware that Beit Shemesh is not "the Haredim," and that the reason "the Haredim" don't work or serve in the army, and their children go to separate schools, is entirely political, and that it harms the Haredim themselves. But it is easier to hate a faceless collective so long as one does not risk a political statement that ascribes the weakening of Israeli democracy to a comprehensive process of domestic and foreign policy. The outcome could be ruinous. Anyone who doesn't understand why should recall the fate of the Shinui party, which in effect won 16 Knesset seats for Shas before disappearing.

Read this article in Hebrew