Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of December 27, 1998


By Jonathan Rosenblum

The great champion of 'free speech' and 'artistic expression' is rather
selective about which speech and speakers should be protected

One of the many charming aspects of life in Israel that never ceases to amaze is the alacrity with which the self­styled defenders of civil liberties move to suppress speakers of whom they do not approve. Typical was the reaction to a recent column by Yisrael Eichler charging that many of the stereotypes used by the Nazis against Jews have been translated into Hebrew and employed to delegitimize the haredi public.

Yossi Sarid and Anat Maor of Meretz immediately demanded that the attorney­general prosecute him for his words. MK Ophir Pines­Paz (Labor) filed a police complaint against Eichler and urged that he be barred from journalism and the media. Even with the move into yuppiedom, the Israeli Left seems unable to shake its Bolshevik roots. For them, all is permitted; for their opponents nothing. "Eichler is not a Jew. No Jew in the world would tar a fellow Jew with the label of Nazi," Sarid solemnly assured us.

Really, Yossi? When David Ben­Gurion wrote to Haim Guri in 1963, "[Menachem] Begin is clearly a Hitler type, [who would] rule as Hitler ruled Germany," did he cease to be a Jew? When Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz labelled Israeli soldiers in the territories "Judeo­Nazis," did Yossi Sarid howl with anguish? Did he lead those protesting the subsequent award of the Israel Prize to Leibowitz?

When Haim Cohn, former justice of the High Court, commented at an international legal conference that "the Nazis' Nuremberg racial principles have become the law of the State of Israel," did Sarid scream for his scalp? When Maj.­Gen. (res.) Shlomo Gazit said in a public speech that the knitted kippot on the heads of IDF soldiers remind him of the swastika worn by Nazi soldiers, did Sarid protest or call for his prosecution? When Meretz founder Shulamit Aloni described the haredi population as "suck[ing] from the same sinister passions which nurtured the Nazis," did Sarid demand that she resign from the party?

Could it be that what enraged Sarid about Eichler's remarks was not so much the metaphors he chose as his long peyot and the use of those metaphors to defend a populace that Sarid despises? And if the great champion of "free speech" and "artistic expression" is so selective about which speech and speakers should be protected, has he not provided one more example of a process of delegitimization of haredim in this country, not unlike that waged against Jews in Germany from 1933 on?

Interviewed by Yediot Aharonot after Eichler's accusations, Moshe Zimmerman, professor of German history at the Hebrew University, admitted that Eichler's charges were not unfounded and that "many of the images of haredim found in the secular press are drawn from classical antisemitic sources, including the Nazis." Fantasies of violence against haredim abound. Not just anonymous wall posters in Kfar Sava proclaiming, "Exterminate the haredim at birth," in response to the opening of a religious kindergarten, but articles by leading journalists and academics in the mainstream media.

"We have to storm Mea She'arim with machine guns and mow them down," recommends left­wing darling Uri Avneri. "I would take all those weird people from Shas, Aguda, and Degel Hatorah and tie all their beards together and light a match," says Popolitika's Amnon Danker. Yonatan Gefen announces his willingness to cast the first stone in the intifada against haredim, and Prof. Uzi Arnon tells a Kol Ha'ir interviewer, "Haredim should be suspended on an electricity pole."

YOSSI SARID regularly hurls the term "inciter" like a thunderbolt at his enemies, lectures us that words kill, and accuses the entire Right of complicity in the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. Surely, then, he forcefully decried these examples of respected public figures savoring the thought of waging war on haredim. Perhaps, but we must not have heard the news that day.

Haredim are dehumanized every day, portrayed as an undifferentiated mass of black. In Josef Goebbels' propaganda films images of hasidim dissolved into images of running rats, and today, in Israel, haredim are once again portrayed as subhuman beasts, breeding like insects. They are "black ants," "humming locusts," "crass baboons," "backward barbarians," "forces of darkness." Once Jews were accused of killing Christian children and drinking their blood. And today "bloodsucker'' is a favored term for haredim. In place of body­snatchers, Ha'aretz's Yoel Marcus accuses them of being "soul­ snatchers'' and Gideon Samet calls the ba'al teshuva movement the "most disgusting phenomenon of our time."

Hitler, in 1943, explained to Hungarian head of state Adm. Miklos Horthy that the Jews had to be destroyed because they are like viruses that spread contagious diseases and destroy the body's immunological system. And Kol Ha'ir solemnly interviews an "expert on contagious diseases" to explain how haredim spread and threaten all around them. "Parasite" has become used so frequently in connection with haredim that the two terms have become virtually synonymous.

Some have even found in the haredim retrospective understanding for the Nazis. "When I see the haredim surrounded by their large families, I understand the Nazis," wrote sculptor Yigal Tumarkin ­ a statement that did not prevent him from being honored by Yad Vashem. And Tommy Lapid sees the haredim as having usurped the traditional Jewish role of "taking advantage of the gentile, trading in his blood, and laughing at him," only this time with the secular public in the role of the gentile.

One wonders whether he also sees the secular public in the traditional gentile role of "avenger" of these outrages.

If Sarid and company had not been so eager to seize upon Eichler's column as an opportunity to score more points against a prominent haredi spokesman, they might have seen it for what it was ­ a desperate plea to take note of the direction we are headed and how far we have already gone. But that would have required taking a long look in some north Tel Aviv mirrors.

(c) Jerusalem Post 1998


Jonathan Rosenblum is a biographer and contributing editor to the Jewish Observer.

 HOME  Maccabean  comments