The Ultra-Orthodox and Netanyahu Backers Deserve More Sympathy

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Israeli police officers clash with ultra-Orthodox Jews in Ashdod.
Israeli police officers clash with ultra-Orthodox Jews in Ashdod.Credit: Oded Balilty,AP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

There are two groups of people in Israeli society who feel persecuted. Both have great political power, determination to achieve their goals and leadership that is beloved like no other Israeli group loves its leaders. Both these groups crave affection. They have tremendous power, but no recognition or appreciation, and that’s what they yearn for. Members of these groups are strong and at times violent and extortionate, yet they still feel persecuted. They bear no little responsibility for their own image but you can still understand the sense of persecution and discrimination they feel. Sometimes it even pulls at the heartstrings.

The Haredim are the first such group. The coronavirus did a number on their already shaky status in their war with the secular community, for which they bear heavy responsibility. Some of them have run amok and abandoned any sense of solidarity or responsibility toward other Israelis. From their point of view, let them explode. The Israelis have exploded. They’ve exploded from the photos of the yeshivas and kollels, the weddings and mass meals. This was like spitting in their faces. Some of the Haredim behaved like a fifth column in wartime. And yet the persecution of them is ugly, repulsive and apparently without basis in fact.

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To travel to the airport to photograph streimels and count the number of people in black robes is a nasty thing to do. Without a solid body of verifiable data to prove the extent of their extortion and protektzia, this has nothing to do with fair and professional journalism. There are also many Haredim on Rabbi Akiva Street in Bnei Brak; shall we photograph them, too, and shout gevalt? There have always been a lot of Haredim on the flights back and forth to New York; does this mean someone is putting them on the planes for evil purposes while others can’t fly?

Sharon Idan, a great, objective journalist, challenged the claim that the Haredim got preferential treatment. Perhaps there were extraordinary cases, some of them undoubtedly involving Haredi wheeler-dealers, but was there no wheeling and dealing on the part of secular Israelis as well?

To stand at the terminal hunting down Haredim brings to mind some harsh images. As a result, the Haredi sense of being persecuted grew, justifiably. Contrary to what many tend to think about this insular group, it cares a lot about what Israelis think of them. Try to say something that shows some understanding or sympathy for their situation and you will immediately get a flood of warmth, enthusiasm and gratitude. There will be late-night phone calls from Haredim and interviews on an infinite number of pirate radio stations, stations run by one person for one listener, with an answering service that works like a tape recorder, and it’s all done in the dead of night.

Not every group feels this way. The delegitimized, persecuted radical left has never cared what other Israelis thought of them and never clamored for any warmth or understanding from society. Neither do the settlers clamor for sympathy. They suffice with their brutality, power and accomplishments. Even Israeli Arabs don’t clamor for Israeli sympathy; the justice of their cause is enough. Only the Haredim and one other group want something more than power.

The second group is of course the Bibi-ists. Their leader has spent years in power without any restraints. They admire him, in fact they love him truly, yet they feel persecuted. They want something besides power and it’s something they cannot achieve: They want the other elite groups to recognize and admire them. They have never managed this. They never will. They’re also responsible for their image, with their threatening presence and massive, at times fiery shows of force. But there are grounds for their sense of persecution and discrimination.

They also welcome anyone from the opposing camp who sympathizes with them. They are ready to forgive anything if you say a few good words about them, especially about their leader. They crave it, and it touches their hearts and wins their trust. They are also looked down on. They also deserve to be shown more understanding, just like the Haredim.