Monday, January 2, 2012

Leaders Blast Use of Nazi Imagery — Some Ultra-Orthodox Double Down; Others Join Protests

Yesterday, I wrote about the disgusting use of Nazi imagery by some Ultra-Orthodox protesters in Israel. The backlash against the use of that imagery has now started, both from within and from outside the Israeli government. At the same time, while some Ultra-Orthodox continue to defend their actions, other members of the Ultra-Orthodox community plan to join protests against the violence that has erupted. Among those condemning the violence is one of the spiritual leaders of Israel's Ultra-Orthodox community.


Israeli officialdom, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev, all strongly condemned the use of Nazi imagery. Barak, leader of the Independence party and a member of the governing coalition, called the use of such imagery "shocking and appalling" and said:

The use of yellow patches and small children raising their hands in surrender crosses a red line which the ultra-Orthodox leadership, who are largely responsible people, must not accept.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni was equally forceful, stating:

There is no protest in the world that can justify this. Even within the debate we are holding there are boundaries that cannot be crossed. I hope that haredi [Ultra-Orthodox] leaders will condemn these acts.

Avner Shalev, who as chairman of Yad Vashem heads Israel's official remembrance authority for the Holocaust, made clear that those Ultra-Orthodox participating in the protest were drawing false parallels and nothing happening in Israel mirrors what happened during the Holocaust:

I condemn the use of Holocaust symbols in a protest of any kind. This is reprehensible. The Holocaust is nothing like what goes on in Israel.

Unfortunately, some Ultra-Orthodox doubled down, defending the use of Nazi imagery and comparing the backlash against the behavior of some members of the Ultra-Orthodox community with the Nuremberg Laws. This includes defending the use of wearing yellow stars and having some children dress in concentration camp uniforms:

Moshe noted that the replicated image of the little boy from Warsaw Ghetto – which stirred media frenzy – was not planned, but was rather a "spontaneous initiative." However, he refused to condemn it, saying: "When the seculars explain to us why they act like Germans – we'll talk."

Fortunately, some backlash within the Haredi community itself is starting to form against the violence that has erupted. Shas spiritual leader, and former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has condemned the violence, describing those engaging in violence as committing behavior the Torah forbids. Additionally, at least 100 Ultra-Orthodox men and women plan to participate in a protest in Beit Shemesh against the violence that has erupted. However, those protesters are taking no official stance of the issue of separation of the sexes on buses.

While the condemnation from Ultra-Orthodox officialdom, and the participation of some Ultra-Orthodox in protests against the violence, is certainly not nearly everything it could be, it does at least mark a start. It means that there are those out there that are willing to condemn the violence, even if they are unwilling to completely vindicate the rights of women. Much, much more needs to be done. They need to stand up and make clear that just as they have the right to voluntarily do as they please so long as they do not harm others, those that disagree with them have those same rights.

What is happening is not just about the right of women to sit in the front of the bus or the right of a young girl, or anyone, for that manner, not to be spat upon. It is about the freedom and dignity of the individual. It is about respect. It is about the Golden Rule. It is about Jewish values. Let me close with a famous story from the Talmud (Shabbat 31a):

A man wanted to embarrass the two leading rabbis of the era, Shammai and Hillel. He decided that he would feign interest in converting to Judaism, but would only do so if the rabbi could teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot.

He approached Shammai first. Shammai was so incensed at the ridiculous request — how could he dare mock the importance of Torah study and the discipline required to do it well? — that he kicked the man out of his academy.

The man then approached Hillel and repeated his request. Hillel's response?
"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it."

That is what this is about.

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