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4,000 protest Haredi gender-segregation in Beit Shemesh

Demonstrators at Beit Shemesh 27 December 2011 (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills) - Sign reads "Equality is not dirty word!"

This post was written by Dahlia Scheindlin, Ami Kaufman, and Yossi Gurvitz

About 4,000 people demonstrated in Beit Shemesh on Tuesday evening, including a parade of politicians from a spectrum of left and right parties, both secular and religious, to protest what is perceived as the “Haredization,” of the city, a takeover by the ultra-orthodox.

The immediate events sparking the protests were a series of incidents highlighting gender discrimination – a group of Haredim spitting on an eight-year old religious girl, and the struggle over gender-segregated (women in the back) buses in Jerusalem; and more broadly, the exclusion of women from public life in general (known as hadarat nashim). On Sunday, a nasty scuffle between Haredi groups and Israeli journalists ratcheted up the tensions.

Many of the religious residents (known as “national religious,” or “religious Zionists,”) are as outraged as the secular community about these trends.

The general Haredi line seems to be that it’s all just a bunch of fringe radicals, blown completely out of proportion by the media. That line is so widely shared, that in fact it was repeated almost verbatim by pretty much every Haredi who was willing to share a few words with me at the demonstration. Just one Haredi man I asked was willing to elaborate, parsimoniously: “get the Ministry of Transportation to stop persecuting us, and everything will be OK.”

Here are three impressions of three +972 folks:

Ami Kaufman: The crowd was mostly local, very Masorti (traditional), religious, and a good turnout of Haredim as well. I didn’t see any of the usual liberals I notice at left wing demonstrations – which is a shame.

Beit Shemesh Demonstration 27 December 2011 (Photo: Dahlia Scheindlin)

Beit Shemesh Demonstration 27 December, 2011 (Photo: Dahlia Scheindlin)

 

There was lots of hatred for Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul [largely seen as facilitating the expansion of the Haredi presence, at the expense of the majority of Beit Shemesh residents. According to Yediot today (print version), the city of roughly 90,000 is about 65% non-Haredi – secular, traditional and religious – ds].

I found it amusing most of the chants, such as “we won’t give up on Beit Shemesh” were sung to the bass intro of White Stripes “7 Nation army”. Seriously. Every chant.

Dahlia Scheindlin: Genuine anger was palpable.

Beit Shemesh, near demonstration 27 Dec 2011 (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)

 

I thought it rather refreshing to see a demonstration of a very different crowd than the usual Tel Aviv types – the Ethiopian immigrants, religious folks, working class made it into a more diverse reflection of Israeli society.

But I was struck by a few problems:

First, the demonstration was dripping with Army worship. IDF service is turning into the symbol of entitlement, as in “we served in the army, therefore we deserve…” (housing, appropriate city planning, etc.). It’s understandable, as Haredi draft exemption is the most visible manifestation of inequality of rights and duties that are legitimized by the state. How long are we going to obsessively perpetuate the notion that IDF service buys basic civil rights, equality and fairness that ought to be granted to all citizens of a democracy?

Second, the argument that Haredim should be left alone to live out their values as long as they are not imposed on others raises all the problems of multi-culturalism that were hashed out in the 1990s. There must be a shared set of fundamental values in society. Moral relativism does not work.

The line that it’s all exaggerated press sensationalism is a clear outgrowth of the pan-Israeli tendency to deny all unlawful or immoral policy as merely poor communications or failed image-management. Haven’t we taken this whole post-modern, manufacturing consent thing far enough? Sometimes immorality and unlawful behavior really are just that.

Finally, I was unmoved by an op ed in Israel Today by the normally very astute Dr. Aviad Hacohen, a thoughtful and critical legal scholar, who is also religious, asking people not to brand or stereotype all Haredim, and to show some sensitivity.

Sensitivity? Haredim are the greatest beneficiaries of Israel’s distorted social, political, and economic policies. Haredi parties are 16% of the current Knesset, although they are nine percent of the population. Arab/Palestinian citizens are 20% of the population, but Haredi parties sit in the governing coalition; Arab parties never do. Roughly 65% of Haredi men don’t work, and there go my hefty monthly National Insurance payments – not, heaven forbid, to me. As a free lancer, no matter how much I pay, nobody will take care of me if work slows down.  I think I’ve demonstrated an awful lot of sensitivity up to now, thanks.

There’s much debate about these trends representing fringe radicals, as if the perpetrators are totally disconnected from their social milieu. Like aliens. When will people start taking responsibility for the failings of their communities?

Yossi Gurvitz: Never made it [to the demo]. We got stuck in the huge gridlock before the town. After timing 600 meters in 36 minutes… (and, admittedly, some 1.2 kms in the next four minutes), we took the next turn and fled to Tel Aviv.

*********

Organizers claimed that the entrance to the city had been blocked by Haredim. Maybe millions of others wanted to come, but encountered traffic problems.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Y.

      “Haredim are the greatest beneficiaries of Israel’s distorted social, political, and economic policies.
      .
      Haredi parties are 16% of the current Knesset, although they are nine percent of the population. Arab/Palestinian citizens are 20% of the population, but Haredi parties sit in the governing coalition; Arab parties never do. Roughly 65% of Haredi men don’t work, and there go my hefty monthly National Insurance payments – not, heaven forbid, to me. As a free lancer, no matter how much I pay, nobody will take care of me if work slows down. I think I’ve demonstrated an awful lot of sensitivity up to now, thanks.”
      .
      Careful there. This thinking is going to take you into places you may feel uncomfortable in.
      .
      For example, you know very well that some non-Orthodox vote for Shas, and that the Orthodox voting rate is much higher than, say, the Arab rate (53.4% last time). You know even better that the Arab parties themselves don’t want to be in the coalition and that the gaps are unbridgeable. The Haredi men participation rate is higher than that of Arab females (20%), and they actually pay their taxes. The complaint about National Insurance is funny from those who opposed the Wisconsin Plan.
      .
      Aside, that’s why J14 could never work. The contradiction between what a real welfare state model would do (funds to the economically worst-off sectors like Haredim and Arabs), what many protesters wanted (lower taxes and less funds for so-called “leeches”), and the rhetoric (pseudo-leftish) was impossible to bridge. This left the protests mostly a middle-class thing and prevented critical mass.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Lisa

      “Ami Kaufman: The crowd was mostly local, very Masorti (traditional), religious, and a good turnout of Haredim as well. I didn’t see any of the usual liberals I notice at left wing demonstrations – which is a shame.”

      Perhaps the “usual liberals” were busy in East Jerusalem and the West Bank protesting the stealing of land, the Occupation, and trying to protect Palestinians from the settlers’ violent attacks? You know, those other problems within Israel’s democracy. For me, the bigger shame is not that the smaller numbers of liberal demonstrators weren’t in Beit Shemesh, but that the 4000 “religious” people aren’t showing up to protest in Sheikh Jarrah, Ni’lin, etc. An 8 year-old Palestinian girl being spit-on on the way to school would probably consider that a relatively good day.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Joe Mowrey

      Thank you Lisa. This is really the whole point isn’t it. It’s likely that most of the 4000 people at this rally wouldn’t life a finger to protect Palestinians from similar and even much more barbaric behavior on the part of the religiously insane. But when it’s their children who are impacted…Sad but true. Now that the bigotry and hatred which is at the core of Zionism is coming home to roost for Israelis, perhaps some closed minds will begin to open. The absurd notion that there can be such a thing as a “liberal Zionist” may be exposed for the nonsense it truly is.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Aaron

      I was wondering about this claim from the anti-haredi diatribe: “Second, the argument that Haredim should be left alone to live out their values as long as they are not imposed on others raises all the problems of multi-culturalism that were hashed out in the 1990s. There must be a shared set of fundamental values in society. Moral relativism does not work.”
      §
      First of all, multiculturalism in the 1990s was usually about multinationalism: Turks in Germany, Africans in France, etc. In contrast, the haredim, national-religious, and secular all belong to the same nation. That avoids the biggest problem right there. National loyalty – that’s to the nation, not necessarily to the state – is a fundamental shared value of almost all Israeli Jews.
      §
      Second, multiculturalism is about tolerance, not relativism. Both sides believe that they’re right and the other guys are wrong. The fact that the haredim would not tolerate our lifestyle is irrelevant: we’re the ones who control the state.
      §
      True cultural diversity can only work with local separation. Separate neighborhoods, separate schools, etc. To repeat once more, at the local level the solution – and there is a solution! – is very simple: prevent haredim from moving into our local communities.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Aaron, your comment is frightening and sounds like something between apartheid and jim crow. Keep them out of our neighborhoods? yuck. further, you don’t seem to know much about Israel. If you live here, that’s even more striking. we control the state? Do you not know (or did you fail to read here) about the disproportionate control of Haredi parties and institutions in the government, certain ministries, personal status law (aka, rabbinical authority). finally, anti-haredi diatribe? you might reread your own comment. I have nothing against any individual – i don’t care if it sounds cliche. I don’t care if they live in a way that seems far-out to me; i actually respect many of their values. I am not, of course, promoting stereotyping and hatred. I am against the imposition of values that are unacceptable in a democracy on others, and needless to say, against the use of state services/funds to support those values. And of course a culture that gives rise to lawlessness, extremism or violence among some (they’re not the only ones guilty of this here!) is dangerous to all.

      Reply to Comment
    6. AYLA

      Lisa/Joe/Etc.–1) you bring up an important point about why Israelis don’t protest against the occupation, which I’ll get to in a minute. 2) this is a news sight that sometimes covers issues that are not directly related to the occupation, and that’s okay. 3) This, and everything here, is directly related to the occupation; the more extremist, religious control in this state, the worse for the occupation. If the police can’t control a man who spits on an eight year old girl, for being ‘immodest’ no less, if the army and police can’t fight price tag attacks, if the government and army and police are all in bed with the settlement movement, guess what: related to the occupation. It helps in ripple effect if you clean up your own home.
      *
      2) Yes. Why can’t we get Israelis out marching against the occupation. I’m hoping you all will take me as the messenger here–I’m just going to call it like I hear it: a) Israelis feel that their lives are threatened regularly. I hear: even now, with the second intifada fairly far behind us (though still living in everyone), as long as a bus was attacked, as long as missiles fired into Be’er Sheva not long ago, we are living in a constant state of life-threatening war. Please don’t shoot the messenger; I’m reporting, here.
      *
      b) They do not know the effects of the occupation. Seriously. And THAT is why I’m against anti-normalization. The average Israeli is not going to go from being bred to protect their country/family, having learned an entirely one-sided history (as both sides do), to demonstrating in the West Bank, where they are afraid to go. First, they have to meet Palestinians, which is tragically and absurdly unusual these days, and happens mostly in venues that anti-normalization activists are shutting down. And for this I’m going to get in big trouble: Palestinians need to meet Israelis, too.
      *
      Sorry 972–I’ve just opened every digressive thread. But there is no escaping the interrelatedness of all things here, everywhere, and that is both the bad and good news: all positive actions have ripple effects, too.

      Reply to Comment
    7. AYLA

      news site, not sight. learning hebrew. in no language zone.
      *
      Dahlia: like.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Moshe

      Y. I was going to post much of the same. Dahlia students receive a much much greater piece of the budget pie, but since it goes to something you support you would never complain. The NII payments are a pittance and are available to anyone having kids certainly not only the “haredi”.
      Multiculturalism is a proven failure. The best example being in Europe, where defacto No-Go zones exist in city’s and the rule of law, the local government and its justice system have been replaced with anarchy and or religious law. This all came about on the coat tails of Politically correct and Multiculturalism. What should have been a melting pot became a spice rack…
      By allowing them to push the limits which ultimately infringe on the rights of the majority we have come to a head.
      I am “charedi” I see no reason for separate sidewalks, buses or what have you. I wont sit down next to a woman on the bus but then I almost always stand anyhow. In being an ultra orthodox religious Jew one is not to be an extremist in there behavior but rather a moderate (including by not drawing attention or acting in an odd or crazy manner. The goal being to “mekadesh shem shamiam” aka kiddush hashem (sanctifying G-d’s name)where ever he is and in whatever he does. That does not mean he is perfect by any means we can only strive to be. It means every action of his in the public sphere (never mind the private) must be preceded by ‘how will this be perceived and how will it reflect on me the Orthodox, the Torah and Jews as a whole’.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Rachel Canar

      Just a quick factual correction. The segregated buses travel all over Israel, in many cases the only bus for a particular route is segregated, eg: Jerusalem to Tzfat. There are more than 50 such lines. This is not a story of buses which travel just through Haredi neighborhoods or just in Jerusalem.

      It is true that the problem of religious coercion especially which discriminates against women and the attempt to completely exclude women from the public sphere has been a great problem in Jerusalem for many years. But it is a problem that has slowly been spreading throughout Israel. Now that we see the effects of this same culture in the military some are finally taking notice.

      The main groups fighting this phenomenon for years have been the Israeli Reform Movement’s legal advocacy arm http://www.irac.org/ and a grass roots, primarily secular, movement called Israel Hofshit http://bfree.org.il/ who actually organized this Bet Shemesh event. This protest was encouraging both for its size and its diversity – with many Orthodox protesters.

      While the Haredi women and other Orthodox community members have not been leading the charge, they don’t want nonreligious to give up the fight- no matter what they say publicly. In fact, based on all the anonymous and whispered phone calls we have been getting from them for years, they are begging for us to help them, since they are not necessarily in a position to do anything about it themselves. I am thrilled that in Bet Shemesh some have found the safety in number to fight back.

      Rachel Canar
      Former Development Director, IRAC
      Board Member, Israel Hofshit

      Reply to Comment
    10. Moshe

      Lisa/Joe/Ayla not everything in Israel is about the “occupation” and frankly in every society people will always care most about themselves and the issues that effect them personally, be it high cost of living or religious coercion.
      That doesn’t mean that there was not a spectrum of views at that protest and in fact the aggressors in this story, mostly are against a Jewish state and would sooner side with the Palestinians.
      But what does that have to do with this article???

      Reply to Comment
    11. AYLA

      Moshe–1) you’re right in saying that there is such thing as domestic issues that we should treat independently, and of course Israelis care about them, and they should, and good for them. It would also behoove us on comment threads to try, more than I did, to separate things out. And yet. 2) It’s absolutely all interrelate; do you think your high cost of living is not connected to the Occupation? 3) Good point about the aggressors stance on the a Jewish state; so many layers. 4) I think that people who don’t live here, as I’m guessing Lisa, Joe, and some of the commenters on the facebook thread do not, just see big protests for things like this and wonder what they wonder, which is fair.

      Reply to Comment
    12. moshe, I don’t think having kids should be a requirement for equal distribution of resources. Why is my work as a free lancer worth less than those who have kids – especially those who have lots of kids? Secondly re: students – I don’t agree that it’s about the values I approve of, rather, that there must be some basic shared values. So supporting people to get an education means they will be better contributors to the workforce and the overall economy – I understand that some Haredim believe that studying torah is a contribution of sorts, but this is far from a shared social consensus. Further, your point about multi-culturalism is precisely my point – we cannot have a situation where specific groups decide they are above or beyond the law, and that law is supposed to represent the shared social contract…The fact is that if most Ultra-orthodox thought/felt like you write here, we’d be in a better situation, IMHO.

      Reply to Comment
    13. PS, Moshe – i believe, hope, that most haredim DO think like you, and I accept that the problems we’re having now are caused by fringe radicals. But I don’t think they can be divorced from the context that nurtures them.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Sinjim

      @Ayla: Since you brought it in here, I’m going to respond. The defining character of normalization is that you ignore what Israel does to the Palestinians or paint it as some normal fact of life. If that’s what you’re doing, how do you change other Israelis’ minds? If, on the other hand, you are educating Israelis about what their state is doing to Palestinians, that is not normalization. That’s anti-normalization.
      .
      The best example of Israeli anti-normalization I can think of is the Breaking the Silence tours. What is more anti-normal in this status quo than former occupation soldiers exposing to Israelis and others the crimes they committed against Palestinians?

      Reply to Comment
    15. AYLA

      @Sinjim–lightbulb! I’m with you! (still, then, confused about why certain events/actions/dialogue etc. get shut down) but in any case, I’d sign on your dotted line, above. Cheers.

      Reply to Comment
    16. AYLA

      sometimes you just need to take a walk and come back to a new thread :).

      Reply to Comment
    17. rico

      @dahlia – the intro to seven nation army is a guitar played thru an effects pedal that lowers the pitch. the white stripes had no bassist at this point in their career.
      just a fun fact.

      Reply to Comment
    18. ruth

      How do these people differ from the Taliban? They are hateful… true religion has little to do with their beliefs….scapegoating women and young girls appears to be their ultimate happiness , probably makes them feel like “Men”. Getting a job and not bleeding the State should be an achievable goal.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Lightbringer

      Sinjim

      >The defining character of normalization is that you ignore what Israel does to the Palestinians or paint it as some normal fact of life.

      Of course it is normal.
      Or at least it has been normal to the Palestinians since the very beginning, say 100-120 years ago, let alone the fact that Jews were 2nd grade citizens in some Arab countries.
      Of course at the time [Palestinian] Arabs (I hope you won’t argue that Palestinian Nation emerged as a nation around 1960’s) were oppressors themselves.

      “In Jerusalem the Government published a refutation of the rumors that the dead Jews of Hebron had been tortured before they had their throats slit. This made me rush back to that city accompanied by two medical men, Dr. Dantziger and Dr. Ticho. I intended to gather up the severed sexual organs and the cut-off women’s breasts we had seen lying scattered over the floor and in the beds. But when we came to Hebron a telephone call from Jerusalem had ordered our access barred to the Slonim house. [Van Passen, Pierre, Days of Our Years, Hillman-Curl, Inc., New York 1939]”
      http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=118&x_article=1691

      Palestinian Arabs wanted bloodshed and they got it. A bit more than they could handle though… Life is full of surprises.

      >What is more anti-normal in this status quo than former occupation soldiers exposing to Israelis and others the crimes they committed against Palestinians?

      More anti-normal would be making Palestinian terro… I mean freedom-fighters expose their crimes against Israelis and other Palestinians alike.

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