Anti-Semitism Is Rearing Its Head in Tel Aviv

A handful of ultra-Orthodox Jews unleashed a wave of racism when they set foot in Ramat Aviv.

Anti-Semitism is raising its head. Not in Warsaw, Munich or Paris, and there's no need for the Anti-Defamation League to wave the evidence around. It's right here, in our own home, in verdant Ramat Aviv, the most enlightened suburb of Tel Aviv, our most enlightened city. The entry of a handful of ultra-Orthodox Jews to this lovely, modest and tranquil neighborhood has provoked an unlovely wave of racism, tearing the thin veil of openness and liberality from this seemingly left-wing community. If anyone were to behave this way toward Israeli Arabs, the residents might raise a hue and cry, but when it comes to Haredim the gloves are off because attacking the "blacks" is the fashion.

They stand on street corners - God help us - offering men the opportunity to don tefillin: the scandal. They've rented a few apartments to sleep in, and perhaps even to teach Torah: a disaster. A handful among the neighborhood's secular inhabitants: a takeover, the very image of Beit Shemesh. The jargon of the neighborhood's "action committee" recalls days best forgotten. Its Web site speaks of finding "apartments rented to Haredim in order to apply pressure on landlords."

What kind of pressure, exactly? Why, for God's sake? Why the fear? Don't Haredim, like any minority, have the right to live in the neighborhood? No, not when it comes to Haredim, the punching bag of the left. What nationalist Israelis do to the Arabs, the left does to the ultra-Orthodox. There's no difference. Demonization, dehumanization, scare tactics and the sowing of hatred.

Hatred of the Other is the same, whether the Other's name is Mohammed or Leibele, whether he wears a kaffiyeh or a shtreimel. It makes no difference whether the racist is an Arab-hating Kahanist or a Haredim-hating leftist: He is still a racist. Imagine such a committee operating in a European city opposing a so-called "Jewish takeover" of a neighborhood. We would sound a battle cry. But there are already "patrols" in Ramat Aviv by "enlightened" celebrity parents, and heartrending testimony. "Seducing Minors" shouts a headline on the Web site, as though denouncing pedophiles. What's the deal? That Haredim tried to persuade a 13-year-old boy to put on tefillin?

This is not a local issue. The attitude to Haredim is nationwide. It is an insular community, conservative and strict, not exactly my cup of tea. Most of them do not serve in the army (in accordance with a law passed by the nonreligious), some of them choose not to work and most live in dire poverty. They "suck the country dry." We can excoriate them to our heart's content without being suspected of racism. And so, they are victims of racism. Most were pushed out of formerly mixed neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, remaining only in the Sheinkin Street area, and how lovely the sight: a parent bringing three children to school on one bicycle, heavily bearded teachers, Yiddish as the language of daily life, mutual aid and other traditional customs alongside secularism at its best. Multiculturalism.

One is not compelled to love them, identify with their odd leaders or admire the political power of their wheeler-dealers. One is compelled to oppose their violence when it occurs, but also to accept them as they are, as long as they obey the law. They are incalculably preferable to the settlers, who are much more violent and who have sown a much worse disaster in our midst, a plague on future generations, yet against whom no such bitter hatred is aimed. You know why? Because the struggle against the settlements and the occupation is not in the consensus and therefore demands courage and a high personal cost.

Hatred of Haredim is in the consensus. There is no cost to attacking them; that is considered normal behavior. And so the people of Ramat Aviv, my dear neighbors, too cowardly to wage more important and just struggles, have established an action committee against the Haredim. But the Ramat Aviv of this committee is not only pretentiously trendy Ramat Aviv. The issue is not simply a single liberal neighborhood. This is Israeli society as a whole. Until we learn to accept those who are different or exceptional, we cannot call ourselves a tolerant and just society. Hatred of Haredim in Ramat Aviv, or Arabs in Safed, is the same disease. Is the cashier in your supermarket wearing hijab? That's heartwarming. Next let's let her wear a hat, or a wig.