Israel Asserts Liberal Values Against Religious Extremism

The government of Israel, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are taking action to stop ultra-orthodox extremists from bullying young girls for don’t follow their strict dress code. This has long been a problem in areas of Israel (and the U.S. for that matter) controlled by these nuts, but the story of a little girl shown on Israeli TV seems to have galvanized the reaction to it:

Israel has a new and unlikely national heroine. She is a small, blond, bespectacled Orthodox 8-year-old girl, the daughter of American immigrants who live in Beit Shemesh. Her name is Na’ama Margolese and she was featured in a news broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2 about the ongoing Haredi harassment of the girls who attend the Orot Banot School, and about the problem of extreme Haredi control in Beit Shemesh in general.

Naama spoke on camera of her fears while walking the short distance from her home to her school, after numerous occasions when she was cursed at and even once spit on by the Haredi demonstrators. Israeli viewers watched as her mother, Hadassah, holding her hand, tried to convince her to make the short walk as she cried, whined and protested; it’s a ritual they go through every school day.

The loonies here also demand that the buses force women to ride in the back and that the city mandate that men and women can’t walk down the same sidewalk. The Israeli government seems to have had enough:

Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who clearly sensed where the political winds were blowing, went on a public relations push over the weekend to show he was taking action. Ynet reported that he “asked Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Saturday to instruct the police to act firmly against violent attacks targeting women in the public sphere.” In the aftermath of the Channel 2 story and the reaction, the ultra-Orthodox mayor of Beit Shemesh ordered workers took down street signs that directed women to cross the street and “not linger” in front of a synagogue. As they did so, Haredim threw rocks and called the municipal workers ‘Nazis.’

Here are Netanyahu’s comments during a recent cabinet meeting:

“Israel is a democratic, Western, liberal state. The public sphere is open and safe for everyone – men and women alike. There is no place for harassment or discrimination.

Last night, I spoke with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch who told me about the actions that have already been taken. I also spoke with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. The Israel Police are taking, and will take, action to arrest and stop those who spit, harass or raise a hand. I also ask government ministries and enforcement agencies to work to remove signs that call for separation on sidewalks. This has no place in a free and democratic state. While we will use all legal means at our disposal, I would like to emphasize that this is not just a legal issue. It is also a social issue. It is also a question of public and social norms; therefore, I appeal to all public figures and spiritual leaders to act against this phenomenon. The public sphere in Israel will be open and safe for all.”

I hope they follow through on it.

29 comments on this post.
  1. tommykey:

    I hope they follow through on it.

    So do I. As I wrote on my blog about this, if it can’t be stopped in Israel, then how can we expect it to be stopped in places like Saudi Arabia?

  2. anat:

    Maybe it’s time for Bibi to stop kissing the asses of the various rabbis. Just a suggestion. It might convince them he means it when he talks of a liberal society.

  3. jamessweet:

    This has been a loooooooong time coming, and also makes me worry about whether they will actually follow through. But it’s a very promising sign.

  4. Ophelia Benson:

    Better late than never, but dang it’s late!

  5. wscott:

    Good news. But note how he calls is a “phenomonon” to convey it’s something that just sorta passively happens, like the weather. Wouldn’t want to actually point fingers at people for their intolerant or bigoted behavior, now would we?

  6. d cwilson:

    This is the same kind of bullshit behind the Mohammed cartoons controversy. Just because your religion expects you avoid certain behaviors doesn’t give you the right to demand that others also do so as well. We are not subject to your bronze superstitions.

  7. erichoug:

    I saw his story in the Houston Chronicle yesterday and it really got me thinking.

    Why is it that, whatever the religion, the more religious you become, the more towards the core, the more misogynistic you become? He is a case of grown men (supposedly holy men) spitting on an 8 year old girl. Seriously? Who could look at these men and think they are something to emulate?

    But, again, they are not alone, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism etc. they all marginalize women and encourage misogyny.

  8. slc1:

    Given that Bibi is a liar of considerable proportions, I will believe he will take action when I see something happening on the ground. Hopefully, the women Knesset members in his party and his coalition partners will hold his feet to the fire.

  9. doktorzoom:

    The video at the link is well worth watching (even though the subtitles flash by irritatingly fast).

  10. Michael Heath:

    In the aftermath of the Channel 2 story and the reaction, the ultra-Orthodox mayor of Beit Shemesh ordered workers took down street signs that directed women to cross the street and “not linger” in front of a synagogue. As they did so, Haredim threw rocks and called the municipal workers ‘Nazis.’

    Did these conservative Israelis take-up this form of thinking after Glen Beck’s trip to their country or does it merely validate how all religionists think?

  11. anat:

    Did these conservative Israelis take-up this form of thinking after Glen Beck’s trip to their country or does it merely validate how all religionists think?

    The level of stupid is such that some Israelis have been Godwinning each other at least as early as the 90s. Though then I mostly saw it from Mizrahi Jews, with the worst (as far as I remember) coming from Yemenite Jews, especially followers of Uzi Meshulam (who certainly had their grievances regarding the lost children from the 1950s). Godwinning by Ashkenazi Jews is just weirder.

  12. arthurhunt:

    “Israel is a democratic, Western, liberal state….”

    I so want to see the reaction from the Republican presidential candidates to this remark.

  13. nrdo:

    Did these conservative Israelis take-up this form of thinking after Glen Beck’s trip to their country or does it merely validate how all religionists think?

    It’s definitely a pattern of how religious extremists think; it’s the same thought processes articulated by Muslim extremists who rioted over the cartoons; speech is only ok until we see it as a “provocation” therefore the 8-year old girl must have been a provocation. The notion that they’re in the wrong never even enters their heads.

    Anyway, I do think that these over-reaches are waking people up. I think all secular/humanist/cultural/moderate and even modern orthodox Jews need to fight this wherever we encounter it.

  14. Michael Heath:

    Israel is a democratic, Western, liberal state . . .

    arthurhunt:

    I so want to see the reaction from the Republican presidential candidates to this remark.

    During the ’04 campaign season the Bush Administration, including the President and VP, frequently referred to liberal democracies from a laudatory perspective when describing their effort to nation-build Iraq, including their claim they were helping the Iraq people to build their own liberal democracy. They were careful not to refer to the U.S. as a liberal democracy.

    One idiosyncrasy of large institutions is how buzzwords and phrases spread through the organization. It was clear using this term made Cheney but especially W. feel all smart and articulate. It gets really funny when people attempt to use the buzzword of the day when it doesn’t apply. I once worked for an organization where ‘contagion’ became a buzzword; lots of amusement hearing that in all sorts of contexts.

    My own concern is my tendency to over-use very good words. I’d hate to think others are avoiding the perfect word because I’ve over-used it.

  15. laurentweppe:

    Godwinning by Ashkenazi Jews is just weirder

    Right-wing douchebaggy white dudes godwnining is weirder?????????
    Have you ever heard of that thing called “the Internet”? Godwining is like the national sport of right-wing douchebaggy white dudes of every religious and non-religious horizons.

  16. tfkreference:

    Godwin seems to be the rule in Israel. A few years ago, I attended a talk on the modern history of that nation. The speaker, who might have been a rabbi, seemed to present a balanced perspective on the Palestinian situation. However, his final slide included two images: an emaciated man in a concentration camp bunk and an Israeli security officer. I don’t remember the rationale he gave for juxtaposing those images, but it was weak and you didn’t have to be a student if rhetoric (which I was at the time) to see the implied premise that because of what the Nazis did to the Jews, they were justified in their treatment of the Palestinians.

    I immediately rethought everything he had said, and in the years since, have yet to hear anything to restore my sympathies for Israel (though this post gives me hope).

  17. anat:

    Right-wing douchebaggy white dudes godwnining is weirder?????????

    Some Godwinners I heard sounded like they honestly didn’t know what they were talking about (eg a former neighbor of mine ‘the Ashkenazim are whining about stolen artwork, but we had our children stolen from us’), but I’d expect people who likely have relatives who either survived the Holocaust or perished there to at least know what it was about.

  18. grumpyoldfart:

    For years I’ve been watching Internet videos of those guys molesting children on the way to school. In some videos you can see them throwing stones at the girls and their mothers.

    I won’t be holding out too much hope that Netanyahu will seriously try to put a stop to the practice. He’s just reacting to some unexpected publicity, and as soon as it dies down, he’ll forget all about it.

  19. Artor:

    @laurentweppe #15
    What’s weird is that the Ashkenazi Jews are the ones who survived the Holocaust. They or their parents actually lived with real Nazis, and many of them died at the hands of those Nazis. The irony is that they’re calling their own people Nazis now, for actually standing up for the rights of other Jews, when they know perfectly well what a Nazi really is.

  20. dingojack:

    Israel is a democratic, Western, liberal state. The public sphere is open and safe for everyone – men and women alike. There is no place for harassment or discrimination*“.

    * terms, restrictions and conditions apply

    Dingo

  21. dingojack:

    I posted a longer version earlier (but I can’t find it)
    Dingo
    —–
    I found these two articles on the same page in my local paper:
    Egyptian court ruling & Fury at ultra-orthodox Jews

    Crazy world!

  22. dingojack:

    Actually not longer at all. But – here it is.
    Dingo

  23. Pseudonym:

    I’m not believing it until I see a translation of the news report from MEMRI.

  24. laurentweppe:

    What’s weird is that the Ashkenazi Jews are the ones who survived the Holocaust.

    No they’re most definitely not the ones who survived the holocaust: they’re the descendants and relatives of people who survived the Holocaust (Holocaust survivors are way too old to throw stones at schoolgirls): this does not make them congenitaly immune to Godwin. If anything, pulling a Godwin does not mean that you don’t know what you’re talking about: it means that you’re willing to use the rhetorical equivalant to a kick in the nuts in order to silence dissent.

  25. dingojack:

    laurentweppe – what’s the age limit on stone-throwing?
    If, in 1945, they were 8 years old, now they would be 74. Perhaps you think that only 70 year olds have enough strength left in their puny arms to throw stones.
    Oops, your ageism is showing…
    :) Dingo

  26. DaveL:

    What continually strikes me about these stories is how nobody seems to get carted away in handcuffs. Someone verbally assaults and even spits on an 8 year-old girl, people riot and pelt municipal workers with stones, and there’s no mention about anyone being arrested. I’m no expert on Israeli law, but surely there must be laws against this sort of thing on the books?

  27. Strategically Shaved Monkey:

    Politicking as usual.
    25 years ago my taxi (driven by a palestinian) was stoned by orhtodox jews in Jerusalem for driving on the sabbath.
    Extremist violence like this has been tolerated for decades. It takes video of an 8 year old to stir a politician’s sympathy juices!
    Plus ca change.

  28. dingojack:

    And as a follow-up: this.
    Because stopping people from yelling, cursing and spitting-on a little girl for not being pure enough for you is exactly what the Gespato was for.
    @@
    Dingo

  29. visit israel:

    visit israel…

    [...]Israel Asserts Liberal Values Against Religious Extremism | Dispatches from the Culture Wars[...]…

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