Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Days of Rage

Question: What do the thugs of Meah Shearim who riot and cause all kinds of mayhem have to do with the violent settlers of illegal West Bank outposts? Answer: Absolutely everything!

While their religious philosophies are light years apart and diametrically opposite each other - they have one thing in common that defines them more than anything else – a religious fervor that leads them to violence and breaking the law in pursuit of their religious objectives.

There are those who will retort that my comparison is absolutely ludicrous. How – they will ask – can I compare settler Jews who as IDF soldiers - fight and die for their country with those who live in a country under the protection provided by those very settlers who as soldiers risked their lives for these Meah Sheraim types who spit on them?

The answer is that differences like that vanish once you become a criminal who believes that you can take the law into your own hands. They disappear when you act and indiscriminately and violently towards others in protest of a law you don’t like. Heroism in battle does not entitle criminally violent behavior such as that described in the Jerusalem Post:

Extremist activists engaged in a number of “price tag” activities, smashing Palestinian car windows, throwing a Molotov cocktail into a home and rolling burning tires into two West Bank Palestinian villages.


The violent protestors from both camps are first and foremost criminals. In Meah Shearim it doesn’t matter how long a beard is or how careful one is in keeping Kosher. And in the settler outposts it doesn’t matter how many medals one has won in battle. Once you become a law-breaker that resorts to that kind of violence all that other stuff is meaningless.

Hurting innocent people whether it is on purpose or as collateral damage; and whether they are fellow Jews or even Arabs who live on the West Bank is not only illegal, it is immoral, and a Chilul HaShem. (Although I’m sure that both camps would characterize their own violent acts in the name of religion as a Kiddush HaShem!)

There is no excuse for that kind of behavior no matter how fervent the religious beliefs are that led you to it. I completely understand their perspectives and the reason they are so upset even though in each case it is for opposite reasons.

Strangely enough the motives are the same. In each case they simply cannot tolerate the existence of something they feel is against Halacha and actually prevents the coming of the Messiah. But my tolerance for even the most diverse of religious views does not extend to taking violent action in their cause.

Ironically in the case of the settlers, it is that kind of motivation and dedication to the cause that leads them to volunteer for the most dangerous combat missions as IDF soldiers. But in this case their motivation is grossly misplaced and their behavior in its worst manifestation - as described above - clearly wipes out all the good things they did as soldiers.

And it seems like there is no end in sight for these kinds of acts. The Meah Shearim crowd is oblivious to anything the government does to try and stop them. In fact they probably welcome it. The more the government to tries to stop them the more they can point to them as oppressors of religious Jews. And the settlers will not stop either - fighting to preserve what they see as God’s laws. They are all religious fanatics of the highest order.

Let me hasten to add that most religious Zionists don’t do what these settlers do. Some in fact are quite supportive of making compromises for a legitimate peace. And even those who don’t and may even be sympathetic to settler views will not break the law to further their religious goals. And by the same token most people in Meah Shearim are not thugs either and do not participate in the kind of violence their thugs do – even as the sympathize with their motives and agree with their goals.

In order to restore law and order in the country two things must happen. One has to be a government clampdown. All violators of the law should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and maximum sentences given to those convicted. Every single time it happens and to each and every person involved – whether they are Meah Shearimniks or settlers.

The other thing is for their rabbinic leaders - those that they respect the most in each camp - to support those verdicts and have their own sanctions in place, like ostracizing them from their own communities. And to come out with clear and unambiguous condemnations of any violent or unlawful acts no matter how much they disagree with a government action those acts are based on. In other words we need a Zero Tolerance policy on the part of both the government and the leaders of the respective camps. Jails need to be filled with these violent criminals. Give them lengthy jail sentences. And let their leaders publicly support it. Once that happens maybe things will change.

Of course none of this will happen because the truth is that more often than not these leaders have sympathy for their own thugs and agree with their motives - even while they condemn their actions. So instead of backing any kind of harsh sentence some of their leaders will do the opposite and try to get them out jail or lighten their load. And you know what? That makes them all complicit.