Is it getting hot in here or what?

Many of our readers across the pond may not know this, but besides the best-selling Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are other conflicts Israel can be very proud of. One of my favorites is the Secular-Orthodox saga. It’s got drama, violence, religion, suspense – you name it.

Secular vs orthodox affairs have throughout the years been on a constant low flame. There’s the usual protest against something opening on Shabbat, or rock throwing in Me’ah She’arim, or a Knesset Member from the left whining about how much money yeshivas get, or Haredim protesting against new roads because they find ancient Jewish remains, and so forth. But every few years it seems tensions run on a slightly higher flame.

Over the past 20 years, I can remember two such periods. The first was when I was in high school and later in the army, during the large scale protests against religious coersion (which I proudly took part in back then). These occured during the rise in power of the religious parties in coalition governments, mainly Shas. ‘Twas the days of Shulamit Aloni (where is she when we need her?) and Yossi Sarid heading Meretz on the left, and the leader of Shas Rabbi Yaakov Peretz, and his young charismatic deputy Aryeh Deri, in his mid 20’s, who would later lead the party, only to ultimately go to jail (and anounced this week that he’s coming back to politics). I think the thing I remember most from those days is the HaBonim disaster, where 22 kids lost their lives after their bus got stuck on some tracks and was hit by a train. Peretz claimed it was because of faulty mezuzah’s in their school and that people in Petah Tikva weren’t keeping Shabbat. Needless to say, that didn’t go over so well…

The second period I remember is when Yossef Tomi Lapid took over Shinui, and led his party to an amazing 15 mandates in the 2003 Knesset elections with a clearly anti-religious (some say racist) campaign. Back then, the main argument was around drafting orthodox into the army and the Tal commission (and subsequent Tal Law, which ultimately failed). Lately, I have a feeling we’re embarking on period #3, like another flare up is lurking. In the past three months or so there have been a number of events that have brought orthodox and secular out to the streets:

haredim 1

  • Karta parking lot – The Jerusalem courts ordered last month to open this lot, near the Old City, on Shabbat. The city claims that the police urged them to do so, in order to avoid double parking on nearby streets by the many visitors who come to see the Old City on Shabbat, and thus posing a safety hazard. Ultra-orthodox groups, led by the Eda Haredit, claim this is a desecration of Shabbat, and went out to violent protests. There have been reports that not all the ultra-orthodox agree with the Eda Haredit protests, and that there is a lot of internal politicking going on behind the scenes that are triggering events.
  • Kiryat Yovel – It’s the typical “There goes the neighborhood” scenario. Kiryat Yovel, in the south-west part of the city, has long been a hiloni-masorati neighborhood. Secular, veteran residents are complaining that synagogues are being open illegally, that the Haredim are taking over. The main battle is now concentrated around two apartment buildings on Stern St., former student dorms for the Hebrew University, that are up for sale. One secular group is bidding against seven Haredi groups.
  • Ramat Aviv – Another “There goes the neighborhood” scene. This time haredim are buying up flats in the heart of “Secular-City”, North Tel Aviv. The veterans won’t stand for it, the “intruders” couldn’t care less, but the debate here turned ugly after an op-ed by the notorious(?) Gideon Levy, who usually pisses people off with his anti-occupation essays, was published in Ha’aretz and titled “Anti-semitism is rearing its head in Tel Aviv”. You can guess what that one was about.
  • Starving child – An ultra-orthodox woman was arrested this week for allegedly starving her 3 year old boy. Haredim held violent protests yesterday against the arrest, claiming that Haredi mothers are being targeted with baseless allegations. As a result of the protests, Barkat too a pretty drastic step and decided to halt all municipal services to the orthodox neighborhoods of Geula and Mea Shearim, for fear of the safety of municpal employees.

Still, despite these hotpoints, it’s not exactly the same as those two periods I mentioned before. First, there’s no Meretz and there’s no Shinui leading a secular campaign. In fact, it seems politicians from the Knesset have by large decided to steer away from these flare-ups, and not risking adding oil to the flames or endangering their own alliances. Second, the issues themselves are very local, there’s no Tal Law or religious coersion to campaign against on a national scale. So, on the whole, it’s too early to tell if this will develop into anything wider. I certainly hope it doesn’t.

The flames are still low, but I don’t know – Is it just me, or is it getting hot in here?


16 Responses to “Is it getting hot in here or what?”

  1. July 16, 2009 at 11:10

    Ami, Nice overview of these issues!

    BTW – Did you check out today’s Haaretz cartoon?

    Religion and State in Israel


    • 2 shmookty
      July 16, 2009 at 11:14

      Hi Joel!
      I did indeed see the cartoon. I can’t wait to hear what Deri has to say in his first press conference, whenever that is…

  2. 3 Karen
    July 16, 2009 at 12:17

    Secular revolt? Hardly. Meretz? The same Meretz, led by Mr Sarid, who in 1999 joined Barak’s coalition government even though it meant sitting with Shas? Remember the celebrations, Ami? Remember the spontaneous party in Rabin Square where tens of thousands rejoiced in Bibi’s downfall, chanting “Just not Shas, just not Shas, just not Shas”.

    And Shinui. Ah, yes, Shinui. The political and social revival movement that capitulated and remained in Sharon’s coalition even when he brought in United Torah Judaism (though at least they eventually left over the budget allocations to the Orthodox sectors).

    Really, Ami, do you really think we’re ever going to see a real secular revolution over here? The secular, and the left-wing, are so dormant at the moment, they’re virtually comatose.

    But at least we’ll always have Tel Aviv. Just not Ramat Aviv, apparently…

    • 4 Karen
      July 16, 2009 at 13:07

      P.S. Thought I should come clean and confess to having voted Meretz in the last election. For all the good it did me.

  3. 5 Danny
    July 16, 2009 at 13:42

    Well written. Unfortunately, a secular revolution does not seem to be in the offing in the near future. The only way something meaningful can happen is through another kind of revolution, one that significantly changes the electoral system. It is only when a government coalition can be formed without the dependence on the swing votes of the small, special interest parties that payoffs will not be required and the unproportional influence they have can be eliminated or at least reduced. However, it does not look like there will be any electoral reform since none of the major parties are willing to risk alienating the small ones since they may, at some point, have to depend on them in future elections. So in the future there will still be some 30+ parties running for election, the Knesset will continue to be the home of numerous parties (18 in the current Knesset) and the cabinet will continue to be bloated.

    • 6 shmookty
      July 16, 2009 at 13:46

      Karen – Tell me about it…

      Danny – You’re right, a change in the system is probably the only way. But hey, maybe Deri can unite us! 😉

      P.S. Just wanted to make clear that this post isn’t an op-ed calling for a revolution, more of an analysis of the way I see things are now, and may be later…

  4. 7 LB
    July 16, 2009 at 15:57

    First, thank you for writing about this and not about the Israeli-Arab issue (let’s just say we don’t see eye-to-eye on that contentious topic).

    Second, it’s summer – someone needs to strike/protest/riot – otherwise it wouldn’t be summer in Israel. Whether it be students, teachers, professors, the histadrut – or the Haredim – someone’s gotta do it. You mean that’s not the law….?

    Anyway, I wanted to introduce another element into this discussion – national religious community, or in English, Modern Orthodox (more or less – that’s another discussion). This is a community that does serve in the army, pay taxes, etc – and is not in favor of these riots, protests, beating, etc at all. In fact, many of the members of Hitorerut Yerushalayim are religious.

    So it’s not a secular revolution that is needed – but a personal freedom revolution. If people wouldn’t riot when others drive cars on Shabbat on the street, protest the appearance of a non-kosher restaurant (you don’t like it? don’t eat!), or beat up old ladies for sitting the “wrong” part of the bus – then I would never say anything about where they should or should not live.

  5. 9 Lee
    July 16, 2009 at 16:27

    I hope Haaretz paid you for the article… otherwise, I know a good lawyer.

  6. July 16, 2009 at 16:43

    I’m Happy I found your blog,
    There’s one more front you forgot,
    The Trains.
    it appears that orthodox travellers that use the Israeli train systems started to pray during the morning and evening trains from Beer Sheva, Beit Shemesh and Naharia. they go to the front cart, ask “nicely” the women there to find themselves another place and pray. NRG Judaism channel even had a segment about a “Sefer Torah” introduction to the Naharia-Beer Sheva line as a competition to the one introduced to the Beit Shemesh one.

  7. 12 Lee
    July 16, 2009 at 22:07

    It’s the same concept that makes it unbearable to fly El-Al. Forget the greater expense and poorer service. You also get poked every hour by 6 different Haredi sects to help them make a minyan so they can pray Shacharit every time the sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean and Europe.

    Of course, this is by no means a new issue. When I was at TAU, half the university was closed because of a student (and teacher sympathy) strike. Reading the papers back then, one could easily assume that the Barak/Bibi election was more about the secular/religious divide than about the peace process.

    I also remember spending Shabbat in Jerusalem and watching some Haredim protest a grocery that stayed open. I thought that the two sides would get violent before the police broke it up. I couldn’t shake the thought that to me, protesting a business for being open on Shabbat, was in itself breaking Shabbat. Aren’t they supposed to be resting or something?

    Not that America is so much better. Think we have a separation of church and state? Try getting an abortion without getting fruit thrown at you, told your going to hell, and getting your life threatened. Try running for political office as an agnostic or atheist. Even though our constitution specifically says that no religious test is necessary for election to office, the reality is much different.

    Israel is the Jewish state and there would be an inherent contradiction in a Jewish state that operated without Jewish law. What if the concept of the state could be changed from the Jewish state to the Jewish homeland? Would that help?

    • July 16, 2009 at 22:13

      according to Dawkins the fact that religion is a business like any business in the states made it competitive and this made it bigger. sometimes a slow bureaucracy do good.

    • 14 shmookty
      July 17, 2009 at 11:12

      I’m not sure changing the concept of the state would change much. It all boils down to respecting the other sides traditions and lifestyles. And there’s not much done of that, on either side.

      • July 17, 2009 at 13:58

        I believe that there are points where a compromise can’t be found. especially when dealing with women rights and funerals. the tolerance and pluralism that are in the base of democracy can’t compromise with chauvinism and gender discrimination.

      • 16 LB
        July 17, 2009 at 14:08

        The state cannot be really changed at that level – it would undermine the very concept. In any case, it really is about basic respect for others, of which there isn’t much – on the community level, anyway.

        And Shaul (I couldn’t find a reply button to your comment – computers…) – what do you mean by funerals?

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