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
It is extremely unfortunate that certain far-right elements are trying to fan the frustrations felt by residents of the country’s peripheral areas against foreign workers. Last week’s rally in south Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood was a low point that should serve as a warning sign.
When I arrived at the rally last Wednesday, I looked at the asylum seekers and felt sorry for them. I asked myself whether they were aware that that night would be a menacingly difficult one. A man stood at the podium and asked the crowd, in a shaky voice, to refrain from violence. The very request raised concern. The demonstrators appeared visibly frustrated. Some of them held signs criticizing the government, not just the refugees.
The fear was mainly of the Sudanese infiltrators, and it boiled down to the fact that they hail from an Islamic country. One of the speakers at the rally warned that they would build mosques everywhere and that we would lose the Jewish state. Another speaker said he had no problem with the Chinese workers or the illegal Palestinian workers, but that the Sudanese and Eritreans were inspiring fear, buying and renting apartments everywhere. His remarks made me very sad. Another speaker took the stage and demanded that her daughters be protected from rapists. The crowd’s calls reflected their desire to take the law into their own hands.
MK Danny Danon (Likud), who condemned the violence, demanded that they be “expelled immediately” in addition to building the border fence between Egypt and Israel and completing detention centers. The demonstrators chanted: The people demand deportation of the Sudanese!
Many Knesset members have made extremist remarks lately, but when MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union) blamed Israel-hating leftists for the situation, I could no longer bear it. You can’t have it both ways. The politicians on the Right need to decide whether they want to incite violence or to offer a real, serious solution. The elimination of thousands of refugees will not suddenly create jobs or a sense of security for Israelis. The problem is not the refugees, but rather the absence of a welfare state.
The situation requires a complex solution. The asylum seekers must be removed from the cycle of poverty by giving them work permits, because only in this way will they be able to earn an honest living while they are in Israel. Such a measure would also lead to their dispersal throughout the country, thus relieving the burden on the weakest socio-economic areas. Either way, as long as there are those who prefer to denigrate and incite, the issue will remain in the headlines rather than being seriously treated.
And regardless of one opinion or another: Whoever incites to violence against foreigners should be punished in accordance with the law, so that the issue can be discussed reasonably in a public atmosphere that is rational rather than hysterical.
This article was first published on Israel Hayom