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:
- 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?