Israel, Minus the ultra-Orthodox

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A protest attended by hundreds of members of the radical ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem faction against police enforcement of coronavirus restrictions, Bnei Brak, January 24, 2021.
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The bastards changed the rules, say the Haredim. Until the coronavirus came along everything was clear, orderly and coordinated. The government paid, and the rest of us supported it. Whoever chose to, saw this as a model of multicultural liberalism, and those whom it angered gnashed their teeth but understood it was a lost cause, since a Jewish state cannot crush the core of Judaism. In Israel those bearded figures with their curled sidelocks and fur-trimmed hats, the classic Jew of antisemitic cartoons, symbolize the essence of scholarly Judaism, “Yiddishkeit,” the reason the Jewish state was established.

The Haredim had another important role: They bestowed on secular and religious-Zionist Jews the status of progressive liberals, seekers of science and knowledge, representing a Judaism of power and military might, of “Never Again,” and “Only Thus,” of settlements and hilltops, of the “Jewish brain” that wins Nobel Prizes and creates global high-tech. The Haredi ghetto played the role of Jewish museum, the “sheep to the slaughter,” the Holocaust rather than heroism, the pale yeshiva student vs. the mythical sabra, the New Jew.

Why Bibi won't stand up to ultra-Orthodox COVID scofflaws: LISTEN

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Those bastards changed the rules, the secular also say. If the Haredim had only remained holed up in their Talmud Torah schools and yeshivas, trying not to recognize the secular state but obeying its laws, it’s possible that the patience of Israel’s Jewish population wouldn’t have worn thin and it would have been prepared to continue to pay upkeep for the preserve. But they energetically entered politics, turned themselves into an intimidating force without which governments could not be established, took a lot more than their share from the public purse and made efforts to impose a “Jewish” lifestyle on the state. They became citizens of a state they don’t recognize.

In a country where taxes and military service are the foundations of citizenship and the measure of the equal burden, they got permission to evade both of them – if not de jure, then certainly de facto. The paradox is that one of the poorest communities in the state holds the most political power, and incredible executive powers grasped tightly by its representatives serving as ministers and deputy ministers. They are not to blame for their unusual status, nor even for exploiting it. That, after all, was the agreement.

Suddenly they are being seen as an existential threat. They don’t follow the rules, they open their Talmud Torah and yeshiva against regulations, they throw stones, beat policemen, burn buses and seem to be infecting the entire country with Covid-19. They are threatening the government’s ability to govern, the principle of equality before the law and the sovereignty of the State of Israel throughout its territory. From a forlorn Judaism they have become an aggressive and violent Judaism. It’s as if without the Haredim, Israel would be a model democratic society, a symbol of equality, the rule of law and integrity. What’s even worse is that liberal Israelis are proposing to imitate them, to adopt their rebelliousness and determination, to show the regime, as the Haredim do, what it means to be an oppressed minority.

On the other hand, we have sworn democrats suggesting that the Haredim be beaten over the head and taught a lesson, and to empower the government against the rioters, and they place the responsibility for this on the prime minister and the entire cabinet. Thus the Haredim have became the definers of Israeli democracy to the selectors of the “proper” liberalism and evaluators of the government’s ability to govern.

Now they are blaming the Haredim for a host of things: The Haredim are the ones who will determine whether Israel has failed to curb the pandemic, they are the ones who will decide if the prime minister will be able to fly the victory flag, they will decide if the hundreds of thousands of unemployed go back to work, and they are forcing Israelis who champion human rights to defend violent policemen. It seems as if we no longer care if they’ve served in the army, go out to work or study core subjects. Let them just not infect us; let them continue to be the ultimate “other” for the law-abiding, enlightened and healthy Israeliness, which, if you take away the Haredim, has built the perfect state.

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