Twice this week, I have received news that religious extremists wreaked havoc across Israel. First, stabbings at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade; then, the firebombing of a West Bank home which left a Palestinian infant dead. Along with the arson attacks on an Arab-Jewish school and a Catholic church, these terrorist attacks have come to represent ultra-Orthodox extremism.
First and foremost, when these lunatics pursue bloodshed which they believe their religion sanctions (it doesn’t), they destroy lives in the process. This alone makes ultra-Orthodox extremism a problem. Second, they tarnish the name of Judaism and Zionism. At a time when Israel is increasingly viewed negatively around the world, this is unacceptable.
World Jewry and the United States’ support of Israel is largely contingent on the accurate perception that Israel has similar values: peace, equality, freedom, and modernism, to name a few. Israel cannot afford ultra-Orthodox extremists falsifying this perception.
This violent fringe of Israeli society is growing, I believe, because the ultra-Orthodox population is treated as if it’s above the law. There are many things the Israeli government can do to curb this dangerously growing extremism:
1) Men who spit on women who do not fit their standards of “feminine modesty” must be arrested. Israel has no place for Taliban-esque Judaism.
2) Jewish women must be allowed to pray as loudly as they want, wearing what they want. Misogyny and sexism do not belong at the Western Wall.
3) The ultra-Orthodox establishment cannot control the Rabbinate. They must be told that their interpretation of Judaism is not definitive. Anyone who is willing to undergo conversion procedures and who wants to commit themselves to a holy, Jewish life must be allowed to convert.
4) Israel, which is a Jewish state but not a theocracy, must create civil marriage; and when it has, gay marriage must become the law of the land.
5) The ultra-Orthodox must be taught that Zionism is beautiful and empowering, but that it cannot and will not be morphed into the violent national movements which led to the World Wars.
6) Like all other Israeli Jews, ultra-Orthodox enlistment in the army must be mandatory.
7) Ultra-Orthodox Jews must be taught that though God promised us the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river, our religious beliefs do not give us license to shatter the national aspirations of another people. The building of settlements (on land which someday must become a Palestinian state) needs to end immediately. Arab rights to the West Bank are no weaker than our own and they must be treated like the legal landowners that they are.
8) Education in Israel must include the Palestinian narrative. Yes, 1948 was the most miraculous year in Jewish history but that same year, in that same war that brought about Jewish independence, more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from where they had been living for hundreds of years. Israelis must know that.
9) Institutional racism towards Arabs, African Jewish immigrants, and African migrants must be examined and eradicated.
If, as I suspect, Netanyahu is not prepared to do what he must to stop ultra-Orthodox extremism, his political career will come to an end. Israelis are fed up with Jewish terrorists and sooner or later, a left-wing government will arise to stop them.