The Arrogant anti-Bibists and the ultra-Orthodox Are the Same

Israel Harel
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Ultra-Orthodox men wearing face masks at pray in capsules a synagogue in Jerusalem, September 24, 2020.
Israel Harel

Among the demonstrators at the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem are people who are the salt of the earth – people who have risked their lives for the country, scientists, industrialists, intellectuals and others. Without their contributions, the State of Israel would not have achieved what it has achieved.

Precisely for this reason it is hard to understand the stubbornness with which its leaders are arguing – sometimes in blunt, arrogant, conceited language – that the decisions by the Knesset and the cabinet (which were approved by absolute majorities) to limit the numbers of participants in demonstrations are “illegal” and do not obligate them.

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The Israelis who shoulder the country’s burden, like some of these very people, were raised on values of responsibility to which the ultra-Orthodox, as well as other groups, are not committed. And now, at this fateful hour these people are rising up, just like those from the groups that never have been committed to the ethos of solidarity, and are behaving with that same childish irresponsibility.

We are hearing the philosopher splitting hairs like the last of the quibblers in a yeshiva, and the distinguished jurist inventing 150 reasons why it is imperative to disobey the law when it comes to “freedom of speech and assembly.” This, at a time when even the supporters of deposing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understand that it is not at all a matter of eliminating the right to demonstrate but rather simply, at a time of emergency, in which there is – so very logically, so very obviously – the obligation to reduce the congregating at demonstrations.

The “rabbis” leading the religion of the demonstration on Balfour are acting more irresponsibly than the ultra-Orthodox rabbis. The former, whose education is broad, have a greater understanding of the results of their behavior than does the ultra-Orthodox leadership. The latter is inward-looking, cut off from reality and caught up in a continuing act of suicide, as Meirav Arlosoroff so acutely observes. From the eminent figures at the demonstrations, the public expects a different understanding of reality.

The sector for which the concept of responsibility for the general welfare does not exist, the ultra-Orthodox sector, barely contributes to Israel’s economy, security, advancement of medicine or science, and only takes contributions from them. In discussions I have with these people, I hear the argument: Why are the leftists on Balfour allowed to congregate? Is the right to demonstrate superior to the right to pray? Are the restaurants more important than the market for the four species of plants used for Sukkot?

Indeed, childish arguments, but this is exactly the level of the justifications offered by those who argue: Is it permissible to pray but forbidden to demonstrate?

When Yom Kippur was over, footage shot of the eve of the holy day at the Western Wall was screened. Every year, tens of thousands of people are there. On this Yom Kippur eve, because of strict observation of the lockdown, the Western Wall was desolate. On Balfour, however, thousands of demonstrators jostled and some of them tangled with the police. This was, if you like, the embodiment of in-your-face privilege. The message to the locked-down masses: “We are the only ones who count.”

Recently, we have seen the abandonment of Netanyahu by rightists, especially among religious Zionists. When these people see what is happening on Balfour during the lockdown, when they hear the inflammatory statements by the ideologues of “the protest is above the law,” they are appalled.

Be advised: They, and only they – not the “anyone but Bibi” people – have the ability to oust Netanyahu from Balfour. Therefore, Netanyahu’s mouthpieces have launched a vicious attack on broadcaster Kalman Liebeskind and his colleagues who reflect the sentiments of the religious Zionist community. The arrogance and the scorning of both the law and the public’s feelings will not remove Netanyahu from the seat of power. If anything, they could ensure his rule yet another term in office.

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