Monday, November 23, 2009

Fanatics in Israel

After a considerable hiatus, OMT weighs in on 'Who are Israel's ultraorthodox Jews?'

Imagine an extra-terrestrial – or someone from Oslo or maybe Kansas City – who googles ‘ultra-orthodox’ and happens upon Avirama Golan’s ‘Who are Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jews?’ What would he find? Golan starts by expressing dismay – ‘woe unto us,’ she laments – at the differences of the skullcap-wearers who continue to ‘divide and subdivide.’ True, Golan admits, one can’t generalize – but in this taxonomy, the ultra-orthodox largely consist of lunatic preachers, arsonists, vandals, fanatic messianists and missionaries, murderers, and impoverished psychotics; the few lawyers and the staff at the Glatt Kosher restaurant in Petach Tikvah come as afterthoughts, negligible exceptions.

Golan may be convincing – to the outsider – as she dons the mask of rationality, speaking for the ‘distress’ of the ‘moderate’ Israeli majority. In the name of analyzing the secular-religious divide, she blames the now-defunct Shinui for dubbing the ultra-orthodox ‘parasites’; yet herself implies a comparison between the ‘ultra-orthodox’ and dividing, multiplying and mutating cells. Admitting that ‘it’s impossible to define the word “Haredi,”’ she goes on to provide the dizzying list of ultra-orthodox proclivities, and concludes by condemning the government for having ‘abandoned its citizens to extremist.’ That this kind of supposedly enlightened form of anti-semitism has many parallels and precedents – among Jews, as well as non-Jews (the Nazis were experts at taxonomies of Jewish ‘perversities’) – does not make it any less venomous and misleading. No, Norway, it is not like this! But typical as it may be, Golan’s portrait of the world she calls ultra-orthodox, may show her, with much in common with the extremists she condemns.

In Israel, extremist right and left exist in dangerous co-dependency: both sustain a divisive vision of the world which allows for the perpetuation of their parallel one-sided hatreds. Like the camera-man who visits Kiykar Shabbat in Jerusalem on the Independence Day and the thuggish delinquents who happily accommodate with vulgar displays of disrespect, Israel has turned into a predictable play of hatred – and it’s the rest of us who lose out. Most Israelis don’t identify with the fanatical displays of religious zealotry, nor with Golan’s thinly veiled anti-semitism and close-mindedness. Yet while the rest of us strive for a culture which accommodates our sense of complexity – and the richness and diversity of our shared tradition – it’s the divisive rhetoric of fanatics on left and right which prevails. But there is a growing sense among Israelis that the sociological categories and languages of enmity that sustain fanatics of every color have run their course, and that we need new ways of talking, thinking, and acting – reflecting the diversity of life and culture outside of newspaper headlines and billboards in Mea Shearim.

John Donne, the seventeenth-century poet and sometimes Hebraist, writes, ‘no man is an island.’ Donne does not merely assert that individuals are connected, but that his own individuality is dependent upon others: ‘any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.’ With Donne in mind, perhaps it is time to assert more strongly what many of us already know, but what left and right-wing extremists continue to deny – that we don’t fit into their categories; and are connected, depending upon each other for our various identities. To deny that connectedness, to disenfranchise through sociological dissection and divisiveness diminishes. As Donne writes: ‘And therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.’


Spinal Muscular Atrophy - Shira Fisher said...

John Donne didn't live in the computer age where a man can be an island unto himself making the many believe the masses live with him.

bcostrov said...

What a refreshing response to intolerance!