Anti-Semitism – in Israel?

Surely that headline must be an oxymoron?

Unfortunately, it isn’t!

I suppose,  strictly speaking,  hatred of Jews BY Jews is not the same as hatred of Jews by Goyim (non-Jews). Maybe it’s not the same – but it’s still feels very real when you see and hear it.

I  moved to Israel almost 25 years ago, and, since then,  have frequently half joked that, to truly understand the basis of anti-Semitism, it is necessary to live here. After half a lifetime of living in the U.K., and experiencing the special nature of British “genteel”anti-Semitism, I fondly imagined that the Jewish state would be different. To the extent that the nature of the anti-Semitic feelings are expressed differently, it’s true. But the hatred is also based on fear of the other and dislike of those who are, in some way, “different from us”.

Unusually, almost uniquely for a British Immigrant, I made my aliyah directly to Eilat.

Eilat, Israel, Panorama

Eilat - changed a lot in 25 years!

Thus I exchanged, overnight, the life of the big city (London) for what was, then, the undeveloped backwater of a tiny seaside town of less than 30,000 inhabitants. To say that I experienced “culture shock”would be an understatement. But, in my innocence then, I took consolation in the fact that at least I now resided in a place where Jews were the majority.

What I quickly learned was that I had simply exchanged one form of anti-Semitism for another; and, in many respects, a form that was much less subtle. I am not referring to the divide between secular and ultra -Orthodox (more on that later) but, rather between Jews from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Eilat was a town of immigrants who came originally from North Africa;  primarily Morocco and Algeria.

Not having grown up in Israel, I did not witness at first hand the prejudices between different ethnic groups that started in school, developed in the army and blossomed later in the civil society. I can still recall my shock at learning that a girl I was about to employ, had changed her family name. She feared that I, a “White” Jew from London, would not take someone whose name was obviously Moroccan. I then became aware that Jews of European origin ( Ashkenazim) regarded other Jews with darker skins as, literally, “Black”. 

Taking this comparison even further, the conflicts that arose, and still exist, between the ethnic  extremes of Ethiopian and Russian Jews have all the hallmarks of traditional “Jew hatred”.  The optimists explain that these feelings are only natural in such a cosmopolitan mix; they believe that in time successive generations will intermingle and develop an integrated “Israeli” identity.

As a natural pessimist, I am not so sure that the situation will be one of total perfection and acceptance. After 63 years of statehood it is still a big media event when a Judge or Government Minister is appointed from the ranks of the “black” Sephardim. It’s almost as rare as an Arab or Druse being appointed, and the reaction is pretty much the same. I am willing to concede that, at least, some efforts are being made and the goal of integration is not totally unattainable.

Which brings me to the subject of a different kind of “Black”.

Here I refer not to skin colour but to the colour of clothes. The Black coat and hat that symbolises the

Ultra-orthodox Jews in Brooklyn

The chosen people - it's just that some are more chosen than others...

ultra-orthodox Jew – the Haredim. Here, integration is proving much more difficult to achieve. This is hardly surprising when there is such a huge resistance to the concept from many of the Haredim themselves.

Of course, there are Haredim who have chosen to become useful working members of our society. But, even they can only do that if their particular needs or demands are met. Whether in the IDF, or in High Tech industries, there are practical limits and considerations which must be taken into account. Until recently it seemed that some form of uneasy balance had been maintained.

The events of the past weeks, and the open conflict between some of the Haredim and those that they consider “lesser” Jews, have been well publicised and do not need repeating here. They frequently appear not to distinguish between Jews less orthodox than them and non-Jews. Certainly the rhetoric is the same – with the word “Nazis”being thrown freely about.

Yellow badge Star of David called "Judens...

A symbol adopted by Haredim to protest against "lesser" Jews!

It is one of the problems of the secular liberal outlook that its very tolerance is turned against it by religious extremists.

Even those who were neutral in their attitudes have been forced to re-assess their views as incident follows incident. There is a sudden awareness that the creeping tide of religious fundamentalism is about to overwhelm a society within which 30%, at least, define themselves as secular, and even atheist.

I am not dealing now with the causes and justifications, just the reality. Emotions have lead to a hardening of positions on both sides. The epithets and slogans used by each side against the other would not have been out-of-place in the worst of European anti-Jewish demonstrations.

Many years ago Shulamit Aloni was reported as saying “When I see the Haredim,  I can understand the Nazis.” Yigal Tumarkin is famously quoted as stating “when you see the Haredim, you can understand why there was a holocaust.”

Personally, I understand that the sight of hundreds, or even thousands, of Black garbed men rioting, or simply praying in unison, like so many robots, is disturbing to the goyim. It sure frightens the hell out of me!

Un groupe de Haredim (des hassidim, d'après le...

Haredim en-masse

David Ben-Gurion lived to regret that he ever agreed to the exemption of 400 students from the civil commitments of others, so that they could study Torah full time. I understand that he, as an atheist Jew, felt that it was necessary that a handful of  “professional Jews” maintain some traditional link to Judaism. But, not in his wildest nightmares, did he ever imagine that things would come to this in the Jewish state.

And Theodore Hertzl’s belief that the very existence of a Jewish state would bring an end to anti-Semitism only thought about the anti-Semitism of the goyim.

He did not consider the anti-Semitism of the Jews!

 

Andyboy – Telling it as it is

 

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