Israel's Tolerance of Haredi Intolerance

Uri Misgav
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A religious man walks past a poster of a woman's face that has been vandalized in Jerusalem.
Uri Misgav

These are strange times. Last week on a "fun day” for the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command, female soldiers once again were ordered to enter the swimming pool in long clothing, so as not to offend religious combat soldiers.

What fun. Nobody thought about offending the female soldiers, who were subjected to the rules of Jewish Sharia. Nor did anyone think of the only semi-reasonable solution under those circumstances: that soldiers who have a problem with female soldiers entering the pool should stay in their room, or put on a blindfold until the problem blows over. Although even that’s extreme.

A soldier who is offended by the presence of a female solder in a bathing suit, a female sports instructor in workout clothes, a female parachute instructor in uniform, or a female singer at a memorial ceremony apparently can’t be a combat soldier; he is overly sensitive and vulnerable. The IDF declared in response that “the regulations have been clarified.” But the truth is that the rules must once again be clarified for all of Israeli society.

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Behind the euphemistic expression “gender segregation” there is a clear reality: oppression, exclusion, marginalizing and humiliation of women. In the end they will always receive the inferior seats in the auditorium and the bus, the reduced swimming hours, the more stringent dress code. Only they will be forbidden to sing in front of men, and to lecture to them.

The judges on the High Court of Justice, who approved segregation in academia with the caveat that “it will not be permitted to exclude female lecturers,” can tell themselves whatever they like. The colleges will not force female teachers on the Haredi students; they want their tuition, not adherence to principle.

It is of course important to encourage Haredim to get an education so they can join the workforce, but not by kowtowing to fundamentalism. And in any case, what exactly will a Haredi lawyer do on completion of his studies when he encounters female judges, prosecutors and court reporters? The next step of course will be a demand that the legal system practice gender segregation. There’s no end to it.

Of course, only women can be humiliated like that. If there were a demand in Israel to segregate whites and Blacks, Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, straights and gays, secular and religious Jews, even Jews and Arabs at cultural events, or in swimming pools and springs, the earth would tremble. But it’s legitimate here to treat women as an impure, threatening object.

It’s particularly frustrating to explain this to far too many people in the liberal camp. Such confusion, weakness and embarrassment. We’re talking about a species of supposedly liberal leftists, who in the name of “pluralism” express empathy and even genuine support for instances of “gender segregation” in Jewish fundamentalism. They also support the right of Haredi men to sit idly in the tents of Torah, with government funding and subsidies, in the name of “solidarity.”

This is a truly suicidal tendency. The blight is spreading even in Meretz. Perhaps mainly Meretz. Shulamit Aloni is invited to turn over in her grave. I know some of those people. They aren’t idiots, but they function as useful idiots. That’s why there is no choice but to once again remind them and all of us: There is no liberalism toward illiberalism, there is no tolerance toward intolerance, there is no solidarity with someone who is not in solidarity with you and your way of life. We can begin to talk about respect, acceptance and inclusion only when they are mutual.

The other side smells fear, identifies every weakness. That’s why it really is a life and death struggle. Excuse us, truly, for not being willing to commit suicide.

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