The Persecution Libel
There's a common theme uniting the Selfishness & Ingratitude Rallies of Jerusalem and New York, and the campaigning regarding the Beit Shemesh elections this week. The common theme is the claim that the new Government draft laws, and the opposition to Mayor Moshe Abutbul, is persecution of charedim, based on anti-charedi hatred. I'm not claiming that there is no wrongful anti-charedi sentiment in Israel - of course there is. However, to label the aforementioned phenomena as "anti-charedi persecution" is simply false.
Most of the signs at the rally in Jerusalem last Sunday were protesting the redifah (persecution) of charedim. The average charedi person believes, or acts as though they believe, that the new government draft laws single out charedim for special punishment. Yet in fact, the exact opposite is true. Under the new laws, charedim still get off vastly easier than anyone else in Israel. All the new laws do is to shrink the unfairness by a tiny amount.
There is no criminalization of Torah study. There is only an uneven (in the favor of charedim) criminalization of avoiding the draft. If you dodge going the army so as to play computer games or study art history or practice medicine or engage in Zen meditation you are liable to go to prison. How on earth does putting charedi yeshivos in the same category (and only partially) equate to special persecution of charedim?! All this talk about the "criminalization of Torah study" is nothing less than motzi shem ra against the State of Israel.
The same libel is occurring with the Beit Shemesh elections, only here the hypocrisy is perhaps even more blatant. Last night, a moderate-turned-extreme Anglo-charedi shul in Beit Shemesh hosted a "Gedolim for Abutbul rally." It featured video presentations from Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky and the Novominsker, neither of whom have ever stepped foot in Beit Shemesh and certainly have not spoken to Eli Cohen or any of his supporters. The keynote presentation was from Rav Aharon Feldman, who aside from being the Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Israel, is the father-in-law of a local kano'i Rav. He spoke about how Beit Shemesh - formerly a mixed city of secular, national-religious and charedi - is at a crossroads, and how it is crucial to vote for Moshe Abutbul, because he will be able to turn it into a city like Bnei Brak.
This is nothing less than remarkable. The standard charedi rhetoric in this campaign is that Eli Cohen and his supporters are Charedi Haters. Now, last night there was an explicit confirmation of what to many people is obvious - that Abutbul will turn the city into Bnei Brak. Do you really have to be a "hater of Charedim" to be against that? Can't you just be a person who likes the city as it is, with an even mix of different people? (And can't you just be someone who wants a city that doesn't pile more and more people into it, when the infrastructure is hopelessly inadequate?)
Even many charedim want Eli Cohen, because they realize that he will keep the more economically productive residents, attract investment from outside Beit Shemesh, and make the city more prosperous. All of this will work out better for charedim. Many charedim do not want the city turning into Bnei Brak, which is the poorest city in Israel. So what on earth is this libel about how opponents of Abutbul are nothing more than Charedi-haters?!
The only thing that charedi politicians, rabbis and leaders know to do is to express a siege mentality. Any actions by others - whether they are simply trying to improve their own lives, remove some of the unfairness in charedi society, or try to make help charedim attain economic independence - is portrayed as "persecution of charedim." Amazingly, it's as though there is no other possible reason for these efforts. It's very sad.
(For more on Rav Feldman, see this post.)