Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Countering Harassment with More than a Band-Aid

Poster saying Chardakim, Get out!
One of the saddest things to result from the new draft law in Israel is that Charedim who have in the past joined army units like Nachal Charedi are derisively called Chardakim and often harassed when they show up in uniform in Charedi enclaves. There have been many stories like that in the media.

One of the arguments against the draft made by moderate Charedim who are actually in favor of more Charedi participation in the army is the following. They say that until recently Charedi enlistment was on the increase and the reaction to it by Charedim in general was pretty much benign. But once the draft became an issue, the Charedi world became apoplectic about it. That anger has spilled over into the Charedi street. Some Charedi zealots have decided to treat Charedi soldiers like dirt for joining the ‘anti religious’ Israeli establishment.

The problem is that instead of moderate Charedim blaming the real culprit, they blame the government. The real culprit of course is the venomous attitude of Charedi leaders towards the government which includes vilifying the army. Instead of looking at the positive too, they look only at the negative and scream at the top of their lungs about how the army destroys Jewish souls.

Any counter to that such as pointing to Nachal Charedi  - will be met with retorts like:  Only Charedi dropouts go into that. Or mostly non Charedi Religious  Zionists who want a more religious environment. Or that Nachal Charedi units do not measure up to real Charedi standards. Or that army officers in charge of those units constantly violate the rules and do not really accommodate Charedi needs. Or that the real purpose of the army is for social engineering - to disabuse Charedim of their religious observances.

The bottom line is that because the Charedi world is so upset at the draft, they have poisoned the atmosphere with respect to any army participation at all. That atmosphere has spawned hate-fests by some Charedim directed against their own members who have ‘defected to the enemy’ by joining the army.

With all due respect to the moderates who lament this hatred, it is not helpful to blame the government of Israel for it. True, the drafting of Charedim may have precipitated it. But the real blame should be placed on the constant vilification we still hear about the government and its army. 

Instead of blaming the government, the fault lies in the hateful rhetoric of the Charedi leadership, their media, and their politicians. That trickles down to the common Charedi man in the street. Which degenerates into harassing Charedi soldiers. Charedi leaders do not seem to protest it all that much (if at all). And it continues without abatement.

I don’t know how it is possible for the Charedi leadership to have gotten to a point where they can not spare a single kind word for the army. Instead all they speak about now is how evil the government is. And it appears they look the other way when good people – their own people - are harassed.

Rafi reports that the army is aware of the problem and to their credit, they have dropped the requirement that Charedi soldiers from Bet Shemesh wear the uniform when traveling near their homes. They may wear civilian clothing so as not to incite verbal or physical attacks against them by their zealous neighbors.

What a sad state of affairs we have arrived at in 2014. Instead of having a situation like that of the previous generation where Gedolei Yisroel publicly recognized the value of the army –  even though it was composed mostly of secular Jews, current Charedi leaders now completely bash it even though there are more religious Jews it now than ever. Including Charedim.

Not only do we not hear any praise these days, we hear little to no condemnation of the increasing harassment of their own people – just because they joined the army.

But there is good news to report. Rafi’s blog, tells us that a demonstration in support of the army is being planned. From Life in Israel
The march will consist of residents, but will mainly be meant for soldiers and reservists, along with supporters, who will march through different parts of the cities, especially through Haredi neighborhoods, to show that they are proud to serve in the IDF and not scared.
The protest march is being organized by Moshe Shitrit, a city councilman from the Likud party. Shitrit is upset that instead of solving the problem, the IDF has moved to a temporary solution. Bet Shemesh is a Zionist city, has raised many soldiers over the years and has lost a number as well, and it is intolerable that residents in Bet Shemesh should be harassed just because they are wearing the IDF uniform. Shitrit also blames Abutbol, the mayor, for not taking a strong stand against the extremists. Shitrit says people can walk around in uniform wherever they want, proudly, and if someone does not like it, they are welcome to pack up and leave the country.
Although I am not supportive of his ‘Love it or leave it!’ attitude, I agree with Councilman Shitrit about the following. I’m glad the army is sensitive to Charedi soldiers. But this is not the ultimate solution to the problem. It is a band-aid.

What I would like to see is a grass roots participation in this event. Only I would change it from a protest to a rally in support of the IDF. I would love to see a sea of Kipot in this protest. Kipot representing all religious factions. Religious Zionist Kipot Seruga as well as Charedi velvet Kipot. Black hats and Shtreimels. It is time for moderate Charedim to come out of the closet in public support their Jewish brethren who protect their people. Regardless of their level of observance.

I don’t know how to make this happen, but it should. It may not be a million man march. But if this rally can get the kinds of numbers that would pack the streets in Bet Shemesh the way Charedim did in Jerusalem when they protested the draft a few months ago, it would have a major impact. It would tell the world that religious Jews do support their army. It would send a message to their IDF brothers that they are indeed appreciative of what they do. It would counter all the negative rhetoric by Charedi leaders, their media, and their politicians about how evil the government is and how destructive the army is to Jewish souls.

I would argue that even those that are opposed to the draft show up at this rally. Let the army know that the real Chredim of Israel support them. Just like the Gedolim of the past did. That would be a Kiddush HaShem of major proportion.