Sunday, April 09, 2017

An Odious Comparison

Ayatollah Rouhollah  Khomeini - Israel's future does not look like this man
I literally do not know where to begin. But I do know how wrong Reza Aslan is. How misguided his fear is. And how misleading his article is.

Aslan hosts a series on CNN called ‘Believer with Reza Aslan’. Born in Iran before it became radicalized by religious fundamentalism  - he says he’s worried about the same thing happening in Israel.

Prior to 1979, Iran under the Shah was seen by then President Jimmy Carter as an "island of stability in one of the most troubled areas of the world." Much the same way Israel is seen today. Indeed Iran had all the fundamental trappings of a free and democratic society. And a majority population that liked it that way. 

But when the Shah’s iron-fisted control that treated dissidents harshly was challenged on humanitarian grounds by that same President, his grip on the country weakened and religious extremists overthrew that government in a coup that shook the world with reverberations are still being felt in major ways today.

They established a new regime that was led by an Ayatollah – who is radical Islamist  Supreme Leader. He restructured Iran into an Islamist theocracy. One that envisions an entire world eventually dominated by their religious legal system called Sharia law. Starting with the annihilation of Israel to be replaced by an Islamic regime! In furtherance of that goal Iran is now the biggest exporter of terrorism in the world. The citizens of Iran are now governed by strict Sharia law whether they like it or not. What was once a secular dictatorship under the Shah is now a dictatorship under an Ayatollah.

In my view, just about all the terrorism in the world perpetrated by Radical Islam starts with that coup in Iran back in the late 70s.

I don’t think anyone would dispute these basic facts of history. But the comparison to Charedim in Israel to the fundamentalists that took over Iran is an exaggeration in the extreme that has absolutely no merit.

I do understand his comparison. Some of the points made by Aslan I have made myself. For example the obsession with modesty extremist factions in the Charedi world that has caused so many of them to be violent towards people that violate their standards. Or the way they treat government authority figures or members of the military, especially if they are from their own ranks. There are far too many examples of that for me to mention.

The point is that I agree that these problems exist. At the same time some of the things he mentions as an example of fundamentalist takeover is better described as democracy at work. Like the right of religious Jews to protest the Women of the Wall… or to present legislation in the Knesset that will outlaw that type of behavior at the Kotel. Whether one is in favor of that or opposed to it, this cannot be seen as an instance of fundamentalist takeover of the government.

What happened in Iran in 1979 will in no way happen in Israel. There is no elderly ‘Supreme Leader’ inspiring a violent overthrow. There will be no violent coup led by Rav Steinman. Or the Belzer Rebbe. Or Rav Kanievsky. Or even Rav Shmuel Auerbach.

Now it’s true that most Orthodox Jews (who are a minority comprising about 13% of the country) would be happy to live in a country that abides by Jewish law. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. In a vacuum - Jews who live in accordance with Halacha would make that task much easier in a government that is run that way .

But Orthodox Jews do not live in a vacuum. The fact is that 87% of the country is not Orthodox. And no Orthodox Jew - not even Charedi ones- have ever promoted a coup to remove a sitting prime minister, abolish the democratic infrastructure and replace it with a Halachic form of government. 

What the Charedi parties do in that vein is to use the legal infrastructure available to them in Israel’s democracy to protect Halacha that was agreed upon between secular and religious leaders upon at the founding of the state – in what is commonly referred to as the status qou agreement.  And protect the Halachic identity of who is an isn’t a Jew as an existential matter.

Otherwise most Charedim just want to be left alone to do their thing. One can quibble about how much support that should be given. But in no way do their goals in this regard amount to anywhere near resembling a coup, violent or otherwise.  

Violence that has occurred to that end is the result of extremists that the mainstream does not support. It therefore does not foreshadow anything like what happened in Iran. Even though there are some similarities between extremists in Israel and the extremists that overthrew Iran in the70s, there is no comparison in the goals nor the lengths that will be used to achieve them even if those goals were the same.

Aslan ends with the following statement: 
And as someone who lost his own country to a small but powerful group of religious zealots, I genuinely worry about the future of Israel. 
I don’t see any danger of that. Not even remotely. What I do see is a not so well camouflaged attack against all the religious Jews of Israel – smearing them all as radical religious fundamentalists. Same as Iran.  That is a patently false scare tactic that - to me - is odious in the extreme. Nothing more and nothing less.