In a Haaretz cartoon last Tuesday, Amos Biederman showed four groups that have provided a paradise for the coronavirus: the ultra-Orthodox, the Haredim, maintaining their synagogue routine; Arab Israelis holding mass weddings; the protesters outside the prime minister’s residence; and young people either demonstrating or just having fun at the Tel Aviv beach.
The cartoon aims to zoom out in an overview of the Israeli reality, viewing it from the perspective of the COVID-19 virus, which has been called the “great equalizer” – politically indifferent while spreading indiscriminately.
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How many times have we heard Benjamin Netanyahu explaining that this pandemic “doesn’t discriminate between religions or communities.” That’s the nature of the virus, we’ve been told with socialist pathos; it doesn’t distinguish between Jew or Arab, secular or religious, right or left. With such values, the coronavirus could be a judge on the U.S. Supreme Court.
However, this virus’ political blindness may be the biggest lie of our era. The coronavirus is causing a political war worldwide; it seems every stitch in the social fabric has been opened.
This is no surprise given the lack of social cohesion that has characterized Netanyahu’s years in power. How can one say that the virus is politically indifferent when Netanyahu’s immortal statement – “when excluding the Arabs and the Haredim we’re in excellent shape” – resonates against the backdrop of the patently unequal infection rates and the demand for different restrictions on Arab and Haredi communities? It’s no coincidence that economic inequality finds its expression in contagion inequality.
Comparing the gatherings of Haredim and Arab citizens and the demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is tantamount to a denial of the inequality prevailing in Israel. And yet, the cartoon misses the main point, which is what connects these groups: civil disobedience.
The opposition to Netanyahu has crossed the lines separating various segments of Israeli society. The ultra-Orthodox, the Arabs, the Bratslav Hasidim, the protesters on Balfour Street and on bridges and beaches – all of these are leaky holes in Netanyahu’s sinking ship.
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Before he as recovered from plugging the first hole drilled by Avigdor Lieberman, while trying to plug another on Balfour Street, he sees the Haredim drilling a new one in Bnei Brak. When he attends to the ultra-Orthodox hole in his ship, he receives reports about a new hole at the pilgrimage site in Uman, Ukraine. Nobody believes Netanyahu anymore. Meanwhile, the religious-Zionist ship is warming its engines on the sidelines.
Netanyahu, as expected, did the one thing he excels at: inciting one group against another, juxtaposing the Haredi rebellion against restrictions on prayers with the protesters outside his residence. Thus, secular people are driven to hate Bratslav Hasidim trying to get to Uman, as well as the Haredim, who insist on being allowed to pray as usual. In turn, these groups hate secular people for insisting on holding demonstrations while joining in expressing racist sentiments against the Arabs and their weddings.
All these groups join forces in expressing racist sentiments against the Arabs and their weddings. Thus, everyone blames everyone else for making Israel a “red” country, leading to the closure of other countries to Israelis, and for triggering a lockdown, unemployment and a collapsing economy.
We shouldn’t conclude that these campaigns should unite, because it’s not clear that they can be united. But there is reason to respect each of them, because the lack of confidence in Netanyahu passes through them all like a scarlet thread.
You might ask if the inspiration to be bolder, embraced by protesters who intend to flout the ban on demonstrations, didn’t originate with the ultra-Orthodox. It seems that God-fearing Haredim are immune to the need for obedience, which is a hallmark of the common Israeli liberal. The latter has a lot to learn from the ultra-Orthodox. Who knows, maybe the Haredim will be the ones to finally liberate us from the corrupting rule of Netanyahu.