The publication in Yedioth Ahronoth of a photo showing haredim barbecuing in Jerusalem‘s Sacher Park on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day was a wise move. Freedom of speech is an important value. It would be wrong to suppress a photograph that makes us uncomfortable, especially because it is dangerous to deny the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist.
Many haredim, like many secular people, do not always agree with the hegemonic narrative of Holocaust Remembrance Day. The desire to play down this difference does not sit well with freedom of speech. The media have the right and the duty to print troubling photos pointing to conflicts that occur on sensitive days like Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism.
We must not try to prettify reality. Most of the haredim who held barbecues on Sunday evening knew that it was the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. No one in Israel could miss this. Everyone — Arab or Jews, secular or religious, rich or poor, knows this is a remembrance day that unites the entire nation and should be honored.
But those people knowingly chose to demonstrate disrespect for those Holocaust survivors still among us. We don’t have to compare their actions to sacrilege, as did Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger. After all, this national holiday was created by the state, which is no one’s spiritual authority. People are free to go wherever they want on any day they want. Still, if the celebrants examined their own consciences, they might have decided to behave differently.
Voices will emerge saying that these are merely the bad apples of haredi and Orthodox society. But this is disrespectful toward those who oppose the Zionist narrative. The haredi story is not the same as the story of Zionism. It is a story that is opposed in its thought processes to the hegemonic story of the State of Israel. The symptom — Orthodox Jews who barbecue on Holocaust Day — belies a problem that goes deeper than we think. I am not saying this to incite. I am saying this because the reality is that cultures are not identical and we need to be aware of that.
We have to ask hard questions about education in the haredi world and the place of the Holocaust in it. We must not accept the glib theological answers of Orthodox religious education. The heads of the community and the community itself must do some serious soul-searching about how they relate to Holocaust Remembrance Day. If the opposite were to occur and the values of Orthodox Jews were to be treated with public disrespect, this would generate a furor.
Even if people within the haredi community make light of the barbecue, saying it was carried out by those on the margins of haredi society, we must not accept this explanation. We must be revolted by the deep rejection many haredim express towards the most basic values of Jewish society. I am not saying that everyone has to mourn in the same way, but it is important to honor public space. If the rules of that space were to change, then we would reassess our judgment.
There are different ways of rebelling against Israel and its laws. Some people make their act of rebellion political while others rebel more quietly. We must not make light of such disrespectful rebellions. The phenomenon is widespread and needs thorough treatment.
The recent campaign to extend daylight savings time offers an economic breakdown of how it would benefit the Israeli market. However, on more than one occasion, the report depicts an underlying hatred toward the ultra-Orthodox, and fuels the overall secular-religious divide.
Israel is grappling with a serious identity crisis that has yet to be resolved, and with daylight savings, the issue has come up once again and demands a solution. But people cannot be united by inciting the masses and exercising exclusivist doctrines. We need a new dialogue, one that will take us out of the realm in which the secular are depicted in a good light while the religious are seen in a bad one.
As is the case every year, the issue of turning the clocks back has arisen again. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis signed a petition drafted by MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) to extend daylight savings time to late October, providing an extra month of light in the evenings. Horowitz’s proposition was passed with a significant majority at the first reading, following a recommendation by a panel of experts that supported the notion.
But, much to Horowitz’s surprise, his proposal was buried in the Interior Ministry’s committee, as part of the Shas party’s policy to delay any alteration to the status quo.
The daylight savings issue has lost perspective for both the religious and the secular communities in Israel. When examining the overwhelming support this proposal has garnered, one can see the deeper issues surface.
It is no surprise that Horowitz used the words of the Hanukkah song “We have come to drive out the darkness” when referring to the Shas party. Horowitz exhibits his party’s well-known, unfriendly attitude toward the religious population, suggesting that the forces of light are modern secular Israelis, pitted against the pre-modern religious forces of darkness.
“We came to drive out the darkness, but the real darkness is within the Interior Ministry and this gloomy government. We must drive them out so there will be light,” Horowitz said.
It is possible and even correct to criticize a government’s actions or ministers and their intentions, which occasionally go against the public’s wishes. But it is not necessary to turn one side into a superior group.
In the words of Mickey Gitzin, chairwoman of Free Israel, which advocates for the separation of religion and state: “The State of Israel once again is dragged down by the sinister intentions of Eli Yishai, instead of joining the civilized world and making use of the sunlight as best we can.”
Extending daylight savings time would not necessarily be a source of harm for the religious population. It would allow religious individuals to wake up one hour later for morning prayers and to hold evening prayers later. On Fridays, the religious community could have more time to prepare for the Sabbath, which would begin one hour later.
Yet, for some reason, we don’t hear the voices of religious constituents crying out against those who represent them.
On the other hand, is the secular public voting solely for the sake of efficiency, entertainment, and increased productivity? I think not. Horowitz’s secularism itself is a religious movement and is irrational, and its flaws should be pointed out. How can one join a campaign when its leaders utilize such methods?
I have no say in the decision as to whether daylight savings time should be extended.
But when it comes to the identity issue in Israel, I can say that we must stop referring to the religious public as something dark. The religious community has values, faces, tendencies and ideologies, just like the secular one. Secularists must be aware of the boundaries of what they can say in public discourse.
This article was first published on Israel Hayom
The video depicting Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner bashing the butt of his M-16 rifle into the face of a Danish activist, who came to Israel to show solidarity with the Palestinians, may have been made public with particularly embarrassing timing for Israel, but the problematic timing does not exempt us from asking the hard questions about the conduct of soldiers and violence within Israeli society.
The prime minister and the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff should be lauded for their condemnations of the incident, and for suspending Eisner from his post. This was not the first such incident: Several years ago, a lieutenant-colonel in the Armored Corps was filmed using a helmet to clobber a demonstrator near the security barrier. The officer was subsequently suspended, but he has actually been promoted since. There are several other examples of such incidents at high levels. Perhaps we should examine where this violence comes from so it can be treated. After all, today there are cameras everywhere and we can’t hide what really happens.
Let us not be swayed by Eisner’s associates, who maintain that he had been abandoned and is not getting the support he deserves from high-ranking IDF officials. His was a grave, unjustifiable act. Handling this event in a superficial manner could cause a lot of damage — to the defense establishment and to Israel’s public diplomacy efforts as well, especially during these delicate times.
One can understand why those close to Eisner are protecting him, like a mother unwilling to recognize her son’s problems. However, we must take collective responsibility and ask the toughest questions to root out the problem in the proper way.
Eisner’s behavior in the wake of the affair raises questions. Let us recall that IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai had said that he could not justify the officer’s behavior and that his actions were contrary to IDF values. It was only recently that Eisner was set to be promoted to deputy commander of Bahad 1, the IDF officers’ training base. In such an instance, Eisner should have admitted that he lost control. After all, commanders are supposed to command their soldiers. We have to be able to assume that they are self-aware and capable of admitting guilt. Only in this way can we relate to them as complex human beings, rather than denying and repressing the problems.
Violence within Israeli society is not a passing phenomenon, and we don’t have to go into the occupied territories to find it. It can easily be found in the interaction between Israel Police and social activists. Take for example a recent bill approved by the Knesset in its first reading, floated by MKs Uri Ariel (National Union), Dov Khenin (Hadash) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), which aims to obligate police officers to wear identifying badges. Badges lead to a decrease in violence.
Why would the state of Israel, whose army is one of the most powerful in the world and is perfectly capable of protecting itself, need such problematic violence? Where does the great insecurity that this violence obviously indicates come from? Can we really dismiss this event as a rare exception, or is Eisner simply a product of a flawed system? If he is a product of the military, the police or any other social institution, we must ask ourselves what happened to that great Israeli power that it has become so fragile and thin.
The butt of Eisner’s rifle, which was rammed into the face of a foreign activist, should give us all pause. Only recently we witnessed horrifying violence on a soccer field. Why are we resolving our conflicts with violence? Why are we not able to give voice to our problems in a language that the other side can understand?
This article was first published on Israel Hayom
Am Sonntag, den 29. April 2012 findet in der Literaturwerkstatt Berlin eine Matinee mit Ayana Erdal und Mati Shemoelof statt.
Dichter aus Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Hamburg und Berlin sind eingeladen miteinander zu arbeiten und Texte gegenseitig zu übersetzen. Sie „schmuggeln“ in Paaren, mit Hilfe von Dolmetschern und Wort-für-Wort-Übersetzungen Verse aus dem germanischen in den semitischen Sprachraum und zurück. Vier Autoren haben sich auf das Abenteuer eingelassen, unter Ihnen Ayana Erdal und Mati Shemoelof. In der Matinee stellen sie die Ergebnisse vor und sprechen über den gemeinsamen Schmuggelweg.
Ayana Erdal, geboren 1973, thematisiert vermeintlich Privates, Liebe und Familie. Aber ihre Texte reichen in den Raum der Gesellschaft hinein. Für ihre Lyrikbände erhielt sie die bekanntesten Preise in Israel. Ayana Erdal, die drei Gedichtbände veröffentlicht hat, unterrichtet hebräische Sprache und Literatur in Jerusalem.
Mati Shemoelof, wurde 1972 in Haifa geboren und ist Dichter, Journalist, Verleger und Aktivist. Er hat drei Gedichtbände veröffentlicht, zuletzt „Why I Do Not Write Israeli Love Songs” (2010).
Matinee: „Wie man Verse schmuggelt” am Sonntag, 29. April 2012, 11.00 Uhr
In Lesung und Gespräch Ayana Erdal Lyrikerin (Jerusalem), Orsolya Kalász Lyrikerin (Berlin), Mati Shemoelof Lyriker (Tel Aviv), Mirko Bonné Lyriker (Hamburg), Moderation: Rafael Seligmann, Schriftsteller und Journalist (Berlin)
Quote of the day:
“Why would the state of Israel, whose army is one of the most powerful in the world and is perfectly capable of protecting itself, need such problematic violence? Where does the great insecurity that this violence obviously indicates come from?”
–Mati Shemoelof asks tough questions in commentary piece in Israel Hayom following IDF commander’s brutal attack on Danish activist.**