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MK Israel Eichler: Love Us, Hate Them, Respect Only Deserves to go One Way

Last week UTJ MK Israel Eichler was thrown out of a meeting on the exclusion of women for inappropriate behavior. During the meeting he called Reform Jews anti-semites. He also threatened the Committee chairwoman Tzipi Hotoveli saying “she marked herself as an enemy of the Haredi Judaism” and that “Hotovely would pay for her actions.”.  He was furious that Hotovely would even invite Reform Jews to a meeting and hear their research on the exclusion of women.

Being thrown out sent a message that fell on deaf ears. Later that day when the Israeli Movement for Reform Judaism (IMPJ) said it planned to file a complaint against Israel Eichler to the Knesset Ethics Committee, he scoffed, saying he has no need to worry about “such a far fetched complaint”.

People usually throw temper tantrums when they run out of reasonable words and arguments.  However, there is a concerning pattern here.

This isn’t the first time this year he has been thrown out of a Knesset committee meeting. In January th Knesset was discussing an affordable housing bill and Livni objected to the plan proposed by Israel’s Minister of Construction, Attias, saying that the way the plan determined need virtually ensured that all of the people receiving housing would be haredim. Although her arguments were based on sociological data and current policy, MK Eichler was convinced that her only motive was hate. He shot back that she was “our enemy”.

Nor is this year the first time, he has made such comments. Israel Eichler has a long history of polemical and anti-anyone-but-Haredim remarks.

He views himself as a fighter to protect Haredim. Just before taking over Meir Porush’s Knesset chair in February, 2011, he told Kobi Nachshoni of Ynet that he wanted to negate the legitimacy of anti-Haredi discrimination which is spread and financed by sources in the USA and Europe and creates hatred. We will use all means to fight it, including discussing it in a Knesset investigative committee. All of our struggle will be to preserve Jewish culture and the soul of Israel, may it never be extinguished.

Of course, as is clear from his latest Knesset ouster, his definition of “Jewish” does not include fellow religious Reform and Conservative Jews. Nor does it include secular Jews whom he barely sees as human. He once described secular Jews as “a generation of people who look like beasts and behave like two-legged animals”

In fact, it turns out the entire state of Israel isn’t part of his definition of Jewish either. He has also abused Nazi symbolism to paint wider Israel as a genocidal force out to destroy his community of Jews. He has liked the media to a “crematoria” and secular Jews fighting to keep Ramat Aviv mall open on Shabbat as “Nazis”. Among some of the other statements about Israel he has made over the years:

  • Israel is “an enemy state”
  • Israel is “a historical national disaster”
  • Israel is “an evil regime”
  • “all talk of democracy is just lies and hypocrisy”
  • “There is no further basis for us to be one people”.

Nor is this the first time he has shown a twisted standard. In a November, 2011 Knesset committee meeting on Kol BaRama, the Sephardic-Haredi Radio Station that refuses to include women in its broadcasting schedule, he insisted on freedom of the press. However, freedom in context did not mean the positive right to express a viewpoint. Rather it was the negative right to surpress the words of others, particularly women.

In a Democracy, Awareness, not Silence

Diaspora readers should not think that the existence of an Israel Eichler in the Knesset means that Israel itself is full of hate. Israel is a democracy so no matter how offensive Israel Eichler’s words are, he has a right to say them. Hiddush CEO Uri Regev stressed this point when Hiddush prepared a report listing all of Eichler’s hate speech and distributed it to members of the Knesset. Awareness, not silence, is how a democracy best deals with noxious speech:

It’s a good thing we live in a modern democracy, which allows us to express such extremist views against the state and democracy in public. However, it is important that we recognize the new MK’s attitude towards the state, Zionism, and anyone who isn’t ultra-Orthodox, and remember the hostile attitude of United Torah Judaism towards the government of which it is a member.

However, vocal protest is also part of the way democracy deals with hateful speech.

Protest is also Part of Democracy

Back in 1990 in the USA, when David Duke, a former Klu Klux Klan Grand Wizard well known for his racism and anti-antisemitism tried to run as a Republican for Senate, his own party repudiated him even though it meant losing the Senate seat to a Democrat. After a national outcry against Duke’s campaign, the party concluded that the bad reputation that came from being associated with such a hate monger-er would spill over into other elections and hurt the party as a whole.

Now Israeli politics is not US politics. However, it is still fair to ask: “Why hasn’t United Torah Judaism (UTJ) repudiated Israel Eichler?” Why did they even give him a Knesset seat in the first place? Why don’t they remove him? Why isn’t someone as hateful as Israel Eichler considered a political liability?

It was only last December that the Haredi community was fighting to distance its communal identity from the thugs in Beit Shemesh who attacked reporters, women, and little girls. It was only last December that Haredim fought to distance themselves from protesters in Kikar Shabbat who dressed up like Holocaust vicitms. Is Eichler really the face that Haredi Judaism, and in particular the UTJ, wants to present to the rest of Israel? Can we believe that the protesters in Kikar Shabbat are an abberation when the UTJ is silent about hate speech, including Eichler’s occasional use of Holocaust imagery for his own polemics?

And why isn’t there a public outcry demanding his resignation or at least a condemnation from UTJ? The IMPJ is planning to file a complaint to the ethics committee, but where are the other Israelis speaking out against hate speech?

When David Duke ran for office, black and white US citizens repulsed by his attitudes rose up. In Israel there are no shortage of columnists protesting that Israeli society must not take away a single exemption from the Haredim, because they are a minority and democracy must protect its minority. According to the Avi Chai/IDI study the Reform and Conservative movements are a minority that have the same size as the Haredim: Reform + Conservative is 8% and Haredi/Hardal is 9%. Eichler’s attitudes have been well known for years, but there is not one op-ed that we could find condemning objecting to his holding a seat of power, nor condemning UTJ for making it possible.

It is no good saying that protest is useless because “they” are all as prejudiced as Eichler. Last fall and winter Haredim rightly complained that it wasn’t fair to black ball an entire group by the misbehavior of a few. It is simply prejudice in return. However, if Haredim, and particular UTJ, truly want to claim that the Kikar Shabbat Holocaust mockers are an exception, then the larger society needs to say “Prove it! Show us you can find politicians who live by derek eretz and mutual respect”.

Granted, even if UTJ wanted to disown Eichler, they couldn’t remove him from the Knesset. Once the MK is seated, his seat belongs to him and not his party. Even if he is forced out of the party they can’t take away his seat. For example, when Chaim Amsellem had a falling out with Shas, he still held onto his seat and there was nothing Shas could do about it.

However, it is unlikely that UTJ even wants to remove Eichler. Shas was very vocal about its rejection of Chaim Amsellem, even if they couldn’t take away his seat. However, there hasn’t been a single public statement from UTJ repudiating any of Eichler’s temper tantrums this year.

The greater likelihood is that UTJ members and voters simply aren’t bothered by Eichler’s comments. Some UTJ voters actually share the hate. Others are simply being pragmatic and self-interested. UTJ has portrayed itself as the great defender of the Haredi lifestyle and social privileges. So long as UTJ continues to deliver the goods, its voters will overlook hate if it bothers them.

Either way implies a certain disdain towards non-Haredi Israelis. Either way, UTJ voters and members are saying that something is more important than Ahavat Israel if they are willing to have the likes of Eichler on their list. Those who dislike the hate and are merely voting UTJ are also saying self-interest justifies Sinat Chinam. Perhaps that is not their intent. None the less it is the practical meaning of their actions. If UTJ puts hate mongers on its party list, then voting for UTJ aids and abets hate.

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Categories: Building a Just Israel, Calls to Action, Extremism | Tags: , | Leave a comment

70 Year Old Ultra-Orthodox Woman Latest Victim of Haredi Vigilantes

We must not stand idly by

Two nights ago, the “modesty potrol” of Mea Shearim beat up a 70 year old ultra-orthodox woman who teaches women studying for conversion. They broke her right hand, crushed her left leg, and injured her face.

Many have observed that the victims of these so-called patrols are usually other Haredim. The violence in Beit Shemesh was a spillover of a bullying problem internal to the haredi community. The reasons why this problem persists are complicated.

Just as rabbis refused to give public condemnations against the violence in Beit Shemesh, so too when the violence is targeted within their own community. The reasons for the silence are the same ones that were given in December when the non-Haredi public called for condemnation of bullying on buses, streets, and school protests.

Some rabbis have the feeling that the violent behavior is nonsense. Talking about it will only give them their moment of fame. It will in fact egg them on. Others may feel that the ends justify the means. When attacking or arrested by police, they claim to be acting in defense of modesty and protecting the Haredi community from destruction. Even if they don’t fully approve of the tactics, they don’t really want to stop the phenomenon. Others keep silent out of fear, lest they be judged as lax about modesty and external threats to the Haredi way of life.

Vigilante behavior is not limited to Israeli Haredim. There are on-going problems with self-appointed vigilantes in Haredi communities in the USA as well.  Continue reading

Categories: Building a Better Judaism, Calls to Action | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Chocolate at Twice the Price: Strauss-Elite Boycott Planned for Purim

In economics it is called “geographic price discrimination”. Buy a Pesek Zman candybar in the USA and you’ll pay NIS 2.70 ($0.69). Buy a Pesek Zman candybar in the UK and you will pay NIS 3.85 (65p). Buy the same candybar in Israel and you will pay anywhere from NIS 5.50 to NIS 6.29, dependingon the store.

Even retailers can’t get the price paid by the American consumer: Strauss-Elite sells the candybar to Israeli stores themselves at NIS 3.50. It refuses to say what the wholesale price is abroad. However, it appears to be much less. HaAretz interviewed the owner of a New Jersey store, Amira. He says that he is buying the Pesek Zman candy bars from a distributor and is still making a profit at his regular price of NIS 2.70($0.69).

The price discrimination came to light over the weekend when Yoav Rokach-Penn posted a photo of the Pesek Zman candybar on his facebook page. On the left side of the photo was Mega’s online shopping page for the candy bar; on the right was the store shelf at a Shoprite in New Jersey with the price clearly marked.

Taking Action

In response to the photo a group of mothers who had protested Strauss prices early last summer sent a letter of complaint to Strauss. The letter demanded that Strauss lower its prices immediately. Failing that the mothers planned to organize a boycott starting on March 1. Continue reading

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That US Travel Advisory Has Been Around for a Long Time

… and sadly so has violence in Haredi neighborhoods.

This week several blogs reported that the US Government was warning Americans to dress modestly when they visit ultra-orthodox neighborhoods, lest they be assaulted. In light of all of the turmoil in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh this winter, many people thought this was a new warning.

It isn’t.

“The Wayback Machine” is an archive that stores the history of the internet. It lets you turn back the clock and see any webpage the way it looked a year or two ago or even ten. Using the way back machine I was able to find a snapshot of the US State Department travel information page for Israel from June 7, 2005*.

Here’s how the page looked when it was archived on Jaunary 1, 2006 :

Jerusalem, travelers should … dress appropriately when visiting the Old City and ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods.  Most roads into ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods are blocked off on Friday nights and Saturdays.  Assaults on secular visitors, either for being in cars or for being “immodestly dressed,” have occurred in these neighborhoods.

And here is how that paragraph looks today:

In Jerusalem, travelers should … dress appropriately when visiting the Old City and ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. Most roads into ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods are blocked off on Friday nights, Saturdays, and Jewish holidays. Assaults on secular visitors, either for being in cars or for being “immodestly dressed,” have occurred in these neighborhoods.

They are exactly the same. Just for fun we also looked at some snapshots for the years between 2006 and now. The advisory for modest dress was still there. As the warnings all the way back to 2006 clearly show, haredi hassling of women has been going on a long time. In fact, it has been going on much longer than even the WayBack machine shows.

Thirty years ago, when the internet was a plaything of academics and defense personnel, a cousin of mine walked through Mea Shearim in a short sleeve shirt. Men threw stones at her. When she told me the story a decade after it happened, there was still pain and anger in her words.

On Shavuot 1997, in the days before the Kotel had been declared a Beit Knesset, I was with a group of men and women in the plaza behind the kotel, praying off to the side near the entrance gates from the parking lot. We were half way through the Torah reading when suddenly a mob of black coated men surrounded up, screaming, yelling, throwing stones and bags of milk. The police had to escort us out.

In 2004, novelist Naomi Ragan was harassed on a Mehadrin bus because she was in the wrong seat.

Monday morning, in the throes of a new exercise regimen, I found myself walking down Strauss Street and, as luck would have it, the number 40 bus stopped right in front of me. It’s the bus with the shortest route to my home in Ramot, a neighborhood divided between secular, modern Orthodox, and haredi inhabitants. The bus was empty when I got on. Completely empty. So I paid my fare, got my receipt, and chose a single seat near the front.

I was happily immersed in an article about Yaddo in Vanity Fair when I was interrupted by an angry haredi man who announced that I needed to move to the back of the bus. I looked up at him, astonished, feeling a flash of what Blacks must have felt in Alabama in 1950….

Very calmly, and politely I think, I told him that this was a public bus and I would sit where I liked. He didn’t have to sit next to me, and he didn’t have to look at me. He shuffled off quietly, taking one of the many, many available seats. And that, I thought, was that.

It wasn’t. A few stops later, another haredi man – this time with the build of a Sumo wrestler – aggressively planted his two feet squarely in front of my seat and, in a loud and abusive tone and in no uncertain terms, demanded that I move to the back of the bus…. I am absolutely confident that only the prohibitions against touching a woman (that actually are in the Shulchan Aruch) saved me from being bodily hauled from my seat….

The entire ride, I continued to be the target of intermittent abuse until he finally got off…. ALL THIS TIME, the bus driver said nothing, even though it was clear to him what was happening.

Violence in Haredi neighborhoods not the real news this winter. The real news is that we are now talking about it. Street harassment and bullying can’t end unless people talk about it. However, if we can talk about it, then we can also work together to find a solution.

The question is, will we?  This problem has been going on a long time.  It will not go away, unless we start doing something more or different from what we did before all the media fury erupted.   We should never confuse media attention with real change.

Nor should we be lulled into believing the problem has disappeared just because it isn’t on the 6 o’clock news.  The media attention has died down, but our efforts to make a difference must not.
* Note: At fist glance the archived page appears to be current as of 2012.  This date is due to the archived page including a small amount of embedded javacode that generates today’s date whenever that might be.  The actual date of the warning and the warning itself are hard coded in the html and not generated.   One can see this date by scanning about half way down the page just above the beginning of the text of the warning.  The hard coded date is  June 7, 2015.

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Protesters Gather to Support Second Try at Anti-Human Trafficking Law

On February 12, 2012 the Ministerial Committee will vote on a new anti-human trafficking law. The law attempts to stop human trafficking at the source by depressing the demand for paid sexual services. If the law is passed those using the services will face up to five months in jail and have to participate in a two day educational program. Their names will also be publicized.

Current laws attempt to stop human trafficking by cracking down on either the prostitutes themselves or on the managers and owners of brothels. Israel’s current approach is to focus on the managers of brothels, but this has not been effective in reducing human trafficking in Israel.

According the 2011 US Trafficking in Human Person’s Report, Israel’s management of human trafficking is currently classed with Bahrain, Cambodia, Egypt, India, Nicaragua, Uganda, the Ukraine, and Zambia.

Imprisoning prostitutes usually fails because the prostitutes aren’t usually acting freely and isn’t gaining financially from her actions. When she is “working”, her handler is paid and she gets little or none of the money. If she is put in jail, she will be intimidated back into the trade. The remaining group to focus on is the customers themselves and this is what the new law does. Sweden found that such an approach cut trafficking in half.

An attempt was made to pass a similar law in 2009. According to Levi Lauer, founder of ATZUM, the bill failed in 2009 because “too many people in important places with too many important friends would get caught with their pants down,”. To counter this, ATZUM has joined forces with the law firm Kabri-Nevo-Kaidar to form the Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT). It is also organizing grass roots efforts. They include

In addition to the above,  the Jerusalem Institute of Justice and Exodus Cry are sponsoring an internet petition at Ipetitions.  To sign, visit here.

Human trafficking takes many forms in Israel. Today 1990’s style Russian immigrants being spirited away to brothels in Tel Aviv are only one kind of sex trafficking. African migrants crossing the Sinai and seeking entry to Israel are also victims. Israel also has internal sex slaves – women who are trapped in relationships with abusive pimps who then transport them away from friends, family, and contacts in another part of the country. The threats of violence for internal trafficking can be intense. In Oklahoma, USA, a young woman was murdered and dismembered while another woman was forced to watch and report back to the other prostitutes who might be thinking of leaving.

According to Ruth Eglash , a senior correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, NGOs estimate that 15,000 prostitutes in Israel, about one third of whom (5,000) are minors. Most adults as well as children are not there by choice. They service up to 10,000 men each month. The men include secular and religious Jews, Arabs, and foreigners.

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Abandon the Rhetoric of Tomorrow

by Aner Shalev, cross-posted with permission from HaAretz

"Tomorrow's Starting Now", painting by Sarah Hinckley

"Tomorrow's Starting Now", oil on canvas, by Sarah Hinckley

What do the following statements have in common? The Tal Law (which allows full-time yeshiva students to defer national service ) should be extended by five years. The Tal Law should be extended by one year. Israel will present its position on borders at the end of the three months given by the European Union. Israel will present its position on borders after security arrangements are agreed by both sides. Medical residents will receive their full wage increment in nine years. Yes, all of these statements involve the future.

In our post-ideological times, it’s great to be exposed to a powerful ideological dispute, just like in the good old days. What’s more, this dispute involved major figures, the prime minister and the defense minister, on a subject of the highest principle – whether to extend the Tal Law by five years or one year. At this point, the prime minister dropped his maximalist position and preferred to postpone any discussion on the matter.

The Tal Law is but one of a long series of benefits the government grants to the ultra-Orthodox. As well as this sweeping exemption from military service, enshrined in an infuriating law passed by the government of Ehud Barak, Haredi schools are exempt from the core curriculum. Then there are the cash benefits: allowances to yeshiva students and children, welfare payments, affordable housing, huge discounts in municipal taxes, and more.

The state’s subsidizing of the ultra-Orthodox exacts a huge cost from us, an issue that has been widely discussed. It is a loss that grows with the ever-increasing Haredi population, and pushes Israel closer to the abyss. What is less known, but no less important, is that the Haredi population also pays a heavy price for the reverse discrimination it receives from the authorities.

A comparison of the socioeconomic status of ultra-Orthodox groups in Israel and New York is illuminating in this regard, and fascinating conclusions may be drawn. Haredi groups are not offered special subsidies or easier conditions there, and yet the ultra-Orthodox population is flourishing. While most Haredim in Israel – despite, or perhaps because of, the benefits heaped upon them – suffer poverty and many other hardships.

Indeed, the lack of a core curriculum severely impairs the wage-earning abilities of those wishing to work, and the various allowances encourage dependence, passiveness, unemployment and increased numbers of children, all of which prevent Haredim in Israel from thriving like their brethren in New York. Vocational training in certain fields, which military service sometimes provides, is also denied to most Haredim.

The abnormal relations between the state and the Haredi population is damaging to both sides. And yet it seems that this discrimination, harmful to all, will go on; that the Haredim will never enter the job market despite the recommendations of the Trajtenberg committee (which suggested new incentives and training programs ); and that the Tal Law will be extended repeatedly, with the only ideological conflict being whether to extend it every year or once every five years.

Similarly, Israel will probably never present the Palestinians with its position on borders, because prior agreement on security arrangements will never be attained, or the date for drawing the proposed borderline will be postponed ad nauseam. The future is politicians’ warm, safe shelter.

In his book “The Invention of Tomorrow,” Daniel S. Milo argues that the concept of the future is what makes the human race unique and defines it. Other species have no such concept; they live only in the present. The invention of the future has allowed the human race to develop quickly and take control of the world, but it is also a source of humanity’s suffering and unsolved problems.

Our politicians contribute generously to this suffering. What differentiates them from the rest of the population, and puts them at the top of the evolutionary chain, is that they, almost exclusively, use the future tense. Therefore, they will never solve our problems. Without change now, we have no future.

Aner Shalev is a math professor, novelist, and a social commentator.

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Praying for Contemporary Captives

By Avi Shafran, cross-posted from Cross-Currents with permission.

It was over a decade ago, in the wake of a spate of terrible terrorist attacks on Jews in Eretz Yisrael, that the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah called upon Jews to recite chapters of Tehillim (they suggested chapters 83, 130, and 142) in shul after davening, followed by the short prayer “Acheinu”, a supplication to G-d to show mercy to His people. Many shuls, to their great credit, to this day still dutifully seize that special merit at the end of their services. None of us can know what dangers that collective credit may have averted, may be averting still.

It occurred to me, though, that recent events might well inspire us—not only those of us Jews who look to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah for guidance, but all good-hearted Jews, charedi, “modern Orthodox,” non-Orthodox, “traditional,” and secular-minded alike—to consider reciting the holy words with special concentration, and the short prayer with an additional, somewhat different, intent.

For we have witnessed of late… Continue reading

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Three Steps for Preserving Israel for Our Daughters

Chaim Landau, the director of Perspectives Israel, proposes a three step plan for parents to ensure Israel remains an open, inclusive and democratic country for the next generation.

1) Be active in our schools, whether secular (Mamlachti) or religious (Dati Mamlachti) to ensure that all students get an engaging, top-notch Jewish education. This education must present “a Judaism in which the status of Jewish women is inviolable.”

2) We should affiliate with “synagogues and institutions that relate to women as full members and not as spectators.”

3) Insist that the political parties we vote for or affliate consider the inclusion of women as non-negotiable. Women cannot be used as bargaining chips for coalition building.

For the full essay and further discussion of his three action points, see “The Struggle for Our Jewish Daughters”.

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Tell JFNA What You Think

On Tuesday, January 17, 2-3pm EST, the Jewish Federations of North America is sponsoring a teleconference call with Ron Dermer, senior advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to discuss recent challenges to the fabric of Israel’s civil society. Free Israel from Anti-Women Rabbinic Control is encouraging people to join in on the call to express their views of religious extremism to Netanyahu and the Federations.

For more information on how to join the conference call, see here.

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No More Enabling

From an editorial by David Sable, member of the board of the Jewish Week, “Let Us Stop Enabling Our Jewish Fanatics”:

… the problem isn’t really the radical rabbis. Rather it is so-called Modern Orthodox Jews like me, from the more left wing, open fringes to the more strictly observant black hatters, who have become enablers of the type of violent intolerance that is threatening the democratic foundation of the State of Israel as well as the credibility of our own religion….

Speak up. Demand. Don’t allow your religious leaders to marginalize other Jews or anyone for that matter. Demand accountability for personal behavior and for community standards built on love of Jews and Judaism and not on stringency for the sake of stringency. How many of us criticized President Obama for not walking out on his religious leader when clear lines of decency were crossed? … Understand the continuum of not recognizing Reform Jews, segregating buses by gender, calling Israeli soldiers “Nazis,” turning a blind eye to molestation, traumatizing a 7 year old girl and throwing rocks and eggs at others. It all comes from the same place…an arrogant and twisted interpretation of our religion. And by not stopping each one we are only escalating the issue.

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