Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tribalism, Plus A Siege Mentality

In a post entitled Will Charedim Vote In Their Own Best Interests? I noted that in the forthcoming Bet Shemesh elections, it's clearly in the best interests of charedim to vote for the non-charedi candidate, Eli Cohen. Yesterday, I posted a letter from a charedi avreich who recognizes that. Why, then, will many charedim vote to maintain the incumbent charedi mayor, Moshe Abutbol? The answer, I posited, is tribalism.

After having had extensive discussions/ arguments with a friend who is campaigning for Abutbol, and a local rav who is a strong supporter of Abutbol, and reading the Abutbol campaign literature, I think that it's a combination of tribalism with a siege mentality.

The Abutbol campaign speaks about various things that he has achieved. This in itself doesn't mean much; anyone acting as mayor for five years, in a city growing enormously, is going to have some new things to show off. But I haven't heard anyone - not even my friend officially involved in the Abutbol campaign - even attempt to offer any arguments that Abutbol is actually a better mayor than Cohen would be, in terms of knowing how to run a city professionally and enhancing its economy. Perhaps they realize that such a claim would be a non-starter, in light of the relative training and achievements of Abutbol versus Cohen. Instead, the Abutbol campaign boils down to one single message: "Eli Cohen is the secular enemy of the charedim!"

This message appears in several manifestations. One is the charge that "Eli Cohen is not religious!" Of course, that's not necessarily a strike against him; after all, Nir Barkat is even less religious, and yet various Chassidic rebbes supported him. Nor is it clear how it is especially relevant for a mayor to be religious. Unless the idea is that you have to vote for someone who is "one of us" - in which case, are they saying that anyone who is not charedi should not vote for Abutbul, since he's not one of them?

Another manifestation of this message is the charge that "Eli Cohen is supported by Bennett and Lapid, who want to wipe out Torah!" This claim is also a little odd. First of all, Bennett and Lapid do not want to "wipe out Torah." They have nothing against the Torah of the dati-leumi community! They merely want to end the terrible system whereby tens of thousands of men do not share the burden of military defense nor contribute towards the economy nor fulfill their (Torah-mandated) obligation to support their families. Second, what does Eli Cohen have to do with Bennett and Lapid? Sure, they support him, but he wasn't their candidate; he started as an independent, and they only joined on later. Anyone who meets Eli Cohen will realize that he has no animosity whatsoever towards the charedi public, and wants to be a truly fair mayor. What exactly do people think that Cohen is going to do against charedim? The Abutbol supporters are broadcasting the absurd charge that he will run buses in charedi areas of Bet Shemesh on Shabbos. It's too nonsensical for words; there's simply no way that he would want to do it, or that it could ever happen (besides, who would even ride on such buses?). Finally, the clincher is that none other than Agudas Yisrael is running on a joint ticket with Bayit Yehudi in several cities in Israel - Rehovot, Bat Yam and Tel Aviv. If Agudas Yisrael can do it, why can't Eli Cohen?

Another manifestation of this message is that "The Gedolim are against him!" Well, yes, they are. Of course, if you are naive enough to think that the charedi Gedolim are good judges of what is beneficial for the charedi community - including enforced poverty and endless bans - and that they are fully aware of the relative merits of Moshe Abutbol versus Eli Cohen, then there's nothing to discuss.

I was gladdened to receive a letter, signed by about a dozen rabbanim/ roshei kollel of dati-leumi communities in Bet Shemesh, announcing their support for Eli Cohen. They declared that after investigating matters, they concluded that he is a good person who will work fairly for the best of all communities. Clearly these rabbanim don't see him as anti-Torah in any way, nor are they concerned about his running buses on Shabbos.

It's true that Eli Cohen will probably slow down the accelerating charedization of Bet Shemesh - but he will make a better city for the charedim that are already here, due to more professional administration of the city, attracting more business and thereby having an increased budget, and so on. Many charedim realize that. It's unfortunately that others are endlessly stuck in the "siege mentality" whereby anyone running against a charedi candidate is necessarily "the secular enemy." Maybe when they see how the city improves under Mayor Cohen, with no buses on Shabbos, they'll realize that this charedi siege mentality is an unwise and unhealthy attitude.

Meanwhile, here's an interesting flyer that I received today, from "Charedi Bnei Torah Disappointed With Abutbol."

16 comments:

  1. Interestingly, today's daf yomi says that one shouldn't live in a city run by a talmid chacham....

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  2. (Another manifestation of) "this message is that "The Gedolim are against him!" Well, yes, they are. Of course, if you are naive enough to think that the charedi Gedolim are good judges of what is beneficial for the charedi community - including enforced poverty and endless bans - and that they are fully aware of the relative merits of Moshe Abutbol versus Eli Cohen, then there's nothing to discuss.”
    And this is where all my conversations with numerous otherwise intelligent, even rational, and well intentioned chareidi friends and family ends. Since I am not a gadol, and I cannot possibly fathom the endless depth of knowledge that the gedolim have. Loh tasur. Afilu im yomru lecha… Since we have not delved the depths of the gemara, we are just not equipped to understand the da’as toireh that governs each decision in our lives. There is nothing to discuss.
    Sigh. Deep painful lonely sigh.
    (Or, perhaps… are there enough of us out there to…?)

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  3. Interestingly, today's daf yomi says that one shouldn't live in a city run by a talmid chacham....

    Really? Wow! Powerful!

    “At least you still have elections. If RBS goes Chareidi you might wind up like Bene Beraq where "the Gedolim" choose the mayor and he runs unopposed.” (previous comment by MGI)

    Oh the pashakvillim I’d love to print.

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  4. You ask:
    "What exactly do people think that Cohen is going to do against charedim?"

    I think you're being a little naïve here. The truth is that at least in the short term, the mayor can do his best to fund Charedi institutions (as opposed to, say, the Matnas), allow shuls to be built over Ganim, keep the 90% Arnona reduction in effect (that's a local decision, right?) etc. Presumably (hopefully?), Eli Cohen would act differently.

    Of course, in the long run, all this will drive the city to bankruptcy. But people aren't really concerned by those possibilities. So it's not hard to see why many Chareidim think Abutbol is better for them, at least in the short term, which is all most people care about.

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  5. Chareidism long ago stopped being about a religious approach to Torah and changed into a xenophobic ethnic group. They vote for their own, for better or for worse because they'd rather have a lousy leader of their own than a good leader from the other group. Kind of like your swarthy neighbours just to east, come to think of it.

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  6. Nu, and Shas's already-infamous pronouncement states explicitily that people should vote for Moshe Lion because he's "from our edah," i.e. Sephardi.

    I'll be voting for a member of *my* edah, Nir Barkat.

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  7. Nachum- problem is that "your edah" presumably secularists, are by definition reshaim. That is the difference.

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  8. >"The Abutbol supporters are broadcasting the absurd charge that he will run buses in charedi areas of Bet Shemesh."

    I think you left out here the key words, "...on shabbos".

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  9. Your arguments are solid, as usual, but here's the bottom line: Charedim supporting Abutbul would rather have a dirty city with their schools in caravans than a non-charedi mayor who may attract people to the city from outside their way of life, who may in turn potentially influence their children & lifestyle in some way. That's the mindset. Sad, but true.

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  10. Ah, the memories. When we lived in Israel 25+ years ago and voted during national elections, the pre-election pandering was unbelievable. First it started off, "if you vote for Ploni, you will be guaranteed to receive the following brachos" and a few weeks later it had deteriorated to "if you vote for Aloni, you will be guaranteed to receive the following curses."

    The other thing I remember is going on a tiyul on election day after we had voted (my husband had off from work due to the elections) and going to the Ramot neighborhoods in Y-m. All was nicely kept in Ramot Aleph and Bet until you got to the chareidi neighborhoods (ie. Dalet); there were THOUSANDS of pieces of paper (various campaign literature, flyers, posters, etc) scattered all over the ground on every single street sidewalk, road, etc. and it looked like one giant trash heap. It was a huge chillul Hashem.

    Lastly, my husband's rebbe z'l used to leave Israel one month before elections and return only after elections were over. He said that he simply could not stand the ugliness of people's behavior during election time, and plus he was asked to endorse candidates he did not feel comfortable endorsing and was even threatened on some occasions when he demurred. Interestingly, when we asked him if he would endorse any particular party, he named one that came as a surprise to us. When we asked the reason for his choice he said, "they are the only party that is not motzei shem ra." For him it was more about conduct and mentschlichkeit than actual political agenda.

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  11. what you write about tribalism is true but in this respect the beit shemesh sefardim and chareidim are little different from much/most of israel.

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  12. G. Berry - For him it was more about conduct and mentschlichkeit than actual political agenda.

    SO TRUE! I wish more people had that mentality - instead of making an idolatry out of "viewpoints". The truth is there are any number of different "policy" scenarios we could live with and thrive under, if only we could get ourselves out of the vicious cycle of fear and self-interest. Meaning, everyone's afraid of what the other side wants to take for themselves (or take from them), which results in everyone doing whatever they can to TAKE as much as they can - and if that means destroying your opponents along the way, so be it.

    The enlightened alternative, which is the way of Torah (at least in my understanding), is for people to adopt the mindset: What can I do to promote the OTHER person's happiness and well-being? Because if you know that the other person has your interests in mind, there's no need to fear, no need to try to take as much as you can, and it becomes totally out of the question to try to harm someone else.

    Yes it's probably a "yimot hamashiach" scenario - but if we start thinking about our dreams for the future not in terms of establishing a religious theocracy but in terms of creating an overarching feeling in the world of looking out for one another, maybe then we have a fighting chance.

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  13. Sometimes I wonder why Israeli politics can't be more like American politics. But not this week. "Tribalism, Plus a Siege Mentality" is an all too apt description of what has been going on lately in Capitol Hill.

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  14. Eh, if Eli Cohen had been Tov's candidate, run the city for the past five years and done the exact same thing as Abutbul, and a Shas candidate were running against him, you would certainly play up the incumbent's positives, which are undeniably there, and campaign for Eli Cohen. "My guy" tribalism works both ways.

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  15. going a bit further, i really don't see that voting "for one of ours" to be so awful. that is the campaign message in many campaigns, not just abutol's. here in ariel one of the candidates is russian and she is certainly counting on support from the many russians living here.

    i have no doubt that many african americans voted for obama simply because of his skin color (and many others voted for the other guys because of obama's skin color).

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  16. I thought you'd enjoy this Bet Shemesh cartoon: http://www.jewishcartoon.com/archive_page.html?comicID=277

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