Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Barbarians at the Gate

Is one picture worth a thousand words? Often one picture can tell you far more about something than words ever can. Such as describing how someone looks. Certainly one picture surpasses any number of words. But that common expression is not a universal truth. Often a picture can mislead.

The picture above (from the Charedi website Chadrei Charedim) is a case in point. It was taken at a protest against the desecration of graves at a construction site in Yaffo.

Lest anyone think I am in favor of desecrating graves I am not. I oppose it as does Halacha. There are times when Halacha permits moving graves. Whether this is one of those times is not the issue. This post is not about that. It is about the claim of police brutality that occurred against those who were protesting the desecration.

The picture shows a protester being subdued by the police and pinned down on the ground. There was apparently some metal on the ground there that was heated by the sun. As a result the protesters hand was severely burned as it was being held down. I am told by someone I know that the person pinned down is not a hooligan but a Rosh Kollel by the name of Rothchild who was not doing anything particularly wrong except vocalizing protest. There is no question that Rabbi Rothchild was severely burned.

The picture is being circulated by people sympathetic to these protesters as proof of just how brutal the Israeli police are when it comes to Charedim.

But does it prove that? Does that picture actually reflect the truth? Or does it reflect only part of it?

I suppose that it is possible that these police are brutal sadists who go out of their way to hurt Charedim. But I suspect that this is far from the truth. In order for me to believe that the police in Israel are brutal thugs out to beat up Charedim whenever possible I would have to believe that those who serve and protect its citizens are all by nature brutal barbarians who hate Charedim and go out of their way to do them harm. I don’t believe that.

I would need more than this picture or the word of the protesters that were there. This picture does not tell us anything about what happened before they pinned down Rabbi Rothchild or any of the circumstances of that moment.

There is far greater evidence that the police are not brutal sadists but simply peace keepers who are trained to react to violence with force when they have to. When there is no violence or threats of violence -there is no police reaction to it.

Last month there was another Charedi protest. Over one hundred thousand Charedim participated. Not one Charedi was injured by the police. It was in fact touted by Charedi world as an example of how to protest peacefully. I’m sure the police were out in force then too. Where were police thugs then? Why was no one beaten up? Where was all the police brutality?

It didn’t happen. Not one police officer touched one Charedi. Although I was not on the side of the protesters on that issue - I fully supported their right to protest and applaud the way they did it.

Why then did this happen here at the protest in Yaffo? I have to surmise that the police saw a threat that caused them all to subdue this fellow. That they pinned his hand down and it got burned by the sun heated metal was incidental to their need to subdue him. Could they have avoided it? I don't know but I tend to doubt that the whole purpose was to torture him by burning his hands. And yet this is what people who sympathize with these people believe and they point to this picture as proof.

Does the picture really prove the police are brutal thugs? One need only look at Rodney King and the Los Angeles police department. Many will remember the video of police beating him to a pulp during a routine arrest. That led to accusations of police brutality which was followed by a trial.

What many people may not remember is that the police were acquitted. That led to one of the most violent episodes of mob violence in LA history. They blamed a racist court for acquitting white police who clearly (according to the video) beat a poor helpless black man for no other reason than that he was black.

But a longer version of that video tells an entirely different story. They did what they felt they had to do to subdue him and followed standard police procedure in doing so. The two passengers in his car complied with police immediately and they were not touched. But Rodney King who was a convicted criminal out on parole resisted arrest and made threatening moves. The police reacted in a completely appropriate way. But the media never showed that part of the video. All they showed was what looked like a group of police ganging up on a lone black man and beating him to a pulp.

I submit that there is something similar afoot here. While this ‘Rosh Kollel’ may not be a criminal in the sense of a Rodney King it is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that he provoked the police. I highly suspect he did.

I realize of course that police brutality exists everywhere and Israel is no exception. A Chicago court just convicted a decorated retired police commander of it. He often beat confessions out of criminals in his custody. But I do not believe anything like this happened here. Just like the vast majority of police in Chicago are not like that I have to assume that those of the seed of Abraham Isaac and Jacob are no worse.

I have to ask why these people feel the need to protest so strongly? Why only the ‘gatekeepers’ – the Charedim of Meah Shearim (100 gates)? And why is the Edah HaCharedis leading the charge here? Where are other Roshei Yeshiva and Roshei Kollel – like those from Mir and Ponevitch? Do they not oppose desecrating Jewish graves? Why were they not there?

I suggest that the Edah HaChareids and Meah Shearim type Chasidim have an underlying agenda that has nothing to do with grave desecration. I believe that this about only one thing - their venomous hatred of the Jewish State. The grave desecrations are just another convenient excuse. I believe they use Halacha based pretexts like these in order carry out their real agenda and gain sympathy for their anti State views from the rest of the Charedi world.

To that end they will taunt the police – daring them to react. When the police answer their call and one of them gets hurt they are thrilled to trumpet it to the world. They use images like the above picture to ‘prove’ how Nazi-like (a favored term) the Israel government is via the police.

If one will step back and look at all the events where protests were called for by the Edah HaCharedis one will see a pattern of taunting the police which often escalates to violence (rock throwing and the like) against them and when the police react as they were trained to do – they cry Nazi!

I submit that all this talk about these people being hooligans not reflective of the peace loving Meah Shearim community is belied by the photo above. If a Rosh Kollel gets the Rodney King treatment – he probably behaved in a Rodney King fashion.

Do I know this for a fact? No. But please let us not be fooled by pictures like this in the same way people were fooled by the Rodney King video. Let us recognize that it is hatred that fuels the violence.

I will conclude with a paraphrase of Rav Moshe Sternbuch’s condemnation of the violent protesters: They are not from our camp. But unlike Rav Sternbuch I include his own Edah HaCharedis who – although not directly involved in the violence - has certainly incited it by their continued call for protests even while decrying the violence it inevitably brings.

Perhaps the leaders don’t want to see violence. But when it happens to them you can be sure that someone with a camera will be there to record it and they will certainly put it to good PR use.