Lest anyone think the events occurring in Bet Shemesh are of purely parochial interest, I would beg to differ. The Bet Shemesh story reported on by the Israeli news media has now reached American soil. And probably the rest of the world too. Perhaps that is what spurred the Israeli government to do something about it. I am happy to see that they are beginning to take the extremism of its own people seriously. From the Chicago Tribune:
Netanyahu said he had ordered law enforcement authorities to crack down on "whoever spits, whoever lifts a hand (in violence), whoever harasses" and to remove street signs segregating men from women in some ultra-Orthodox districts.The statement appeared to have been prompted by an expose on Israel's top-rated weekend news about intra-Jewish friction in Beit Shemesh, a town of about 87,000 people near Jerusalem.
Netanyahu is joined in this battle by the Charedi mayor of Bet Shemesh. I guess he has finally seen the light (or perhaps his political poll numbers). He is ‘sending in the troops’. From Ynet:
Police forces accompanied by Beit Shemesh municipal inspectors removed public signs calling for segregation between men and women in the city on Sunday. This prompted dozens of haredim to crowd around the officers. They hurled stones and cursed the officers. Some haredim called police "Nazis." There were no reports of injury.
Earlier on Sunday, Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul held a meeting on the matter in his chambers. His order to remove the signs was carried out at 5 pm when the streets were meant to be empty of people due to the lighting of Hanukkah candles. Nevertheless, several haredim rioted and hurled stones in protest.
Extremism is not the exclusive domain of the Charedim. Daatim have their share of it in the incarnation of the ‘price taggers’. These are the ultra-nationalist extremists who have retaliated against the government’s policy of freezing settlement construction. When an illegal settlement built in defiance of the law is dismantled by the government, these settlers take it out on innocent Arabs by destroying their homes, mosques or other property. Lately they have even attacked military ouposts. They see this as the price for government interference in the religious imperative of settling the land of Israel. Which they believe over-rides what they see as the government’s anti religious Zionist policy inhibiting settlement expansion.
I am happy to see these people get their due. From the San Fransisco Chronicle:
Netanyahu is giving the army new powers to arrest these malefactors and send them to administrative detention - imprisonment without charge, usually reserved for Palestinians. Why suddenly now? "Whoever lays a hand on (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers or Israeli policemen will be severely punished," Netanyahu vowed.
The villain here is not Religious Zionism any more than is ultra-Orthodoxy. It is the extremism that is perpetrated in their cause that is.
To turn a phrase cited by Barry Goldwater when he ran for President in 1964: Extremism in the defense of one’s narrow religious perspective is a vice. No one should be made to pay a price for the beliefs of others.
Putting your own beliefs before the welfare of others is not only a vice but an abuse of the Torah. And yet in the case of both Charedi and religious Zionist extremists that is exactly what they are doing. They are following in the footsteps of Islam where violence is no object to the goals of their religion. For these ‘true believers’ there is no other option. These extremist religious Jews - whether their beliefs are sourced in Charedi ideals or Religious Zionist ideals - are the Islamists of Judaism. They are hijacking Judaism. And they need to be stopped.
Will the current effort on the Charedi side spurred by the young eight year old victim of violence be enough? Will it sustain the governmental effort until the job gets done? And on the Religious Zionist side will the resolve of Netanyahu to rid the Jewish people of those who perpetrate violence against the IDF and innocent Arabs be enough to get the job done there?
I hope so. But it remains to be seen. This is going to be a major battle between right and wrong; moderation and extremism. These Jewish Islamists of either stripe will not give up without a fight. That is the nature of zealots. My hope is that the government has the political will and determination to continue the battle until victory for moderation and tolerance prevails. Because if extremism is allowed to continue unabated it will destroy Judaism as we know it.