Refugees are only a symptom of the greater issue of identity and who controls it. The ultra-orthodox establishment has power over birth, death and everything in between. If they cannot control the refugees they will use them to unite their followers in the uncertainty that the unfamiliar creates.
As a community the ultra-orthodox can only thrive if they are able to define their own path, disconnected from every other sub-community. This is why political influence is so important to them. As a means of patronage one just has to consider that every restaurant that wants a kashrut licence has to employ someone whose job is essentially to stand around and criticise and be paid to do so to appreciate that there is a vast industry of protection in operation. Traditional guardians of morality and human conduct have discarded their sacred role in safeguarding society from its excesses in order to endlessly compete with each other in order to create their own vision of society or for the mundane motive of gaining employment at the expense of a society with which they share nothing but ill conceived contempt and increasingly, loathing.
So many different ultra-orthodox sects compete with each other to be more strident in their opposition to the secular ocean around their particular fundamentalist island (to paraphrase Shimon Peres) that they have lost sight of the environmental damage for which they themselves are responsible.
The ultra Orthodox political leadership has come out against the refugees, but it is the yuppy Ramat Aviv Gimmel crowd that has been most vocal. Where there should be a compassionate religious voice there has been silence or hostility. Because identity is controlled by the religious establishment except where it is formed in opposition to or in conflict with that institution the ethical debate has been hijacked by the extreme Left which is anti-Zionist and therefore unable to contribute to the debate within society in any meaningful way. The refugee issue should be a national discussion that is tied in with how the society views itself. It is hijacked by the extremes on both sides. And yes, there is a problem. A “massive influx” of north African refugees have poured into the country, standing on street corners with hopes of being picked up for cut-price (illicit) labour jobs, they have taken over the cheapest of slums and while that may be a tradition for all new immigrant groups it would be naïve to consider that it did not create it’s own problems.
The border fence will stop this influx and yes, it has to be done because Israel cannot be a safe haven for everyone. But the refugees could be dispersed throughout the country. They could be integrated into Israeli society. It is the failure to discuss compassionate solutions that is at issue. All we will read about is the religious view, rape, alien invasion and crowds milling around looking for work. This is where the danger lies – it has not been addressed because society will not discuss it. The issue has been sensationalised for political purposes.
Racism in Israel is primarily a response to ongoing conflict but also to a failure by government to drive home an inclusive future vision. The State of Israel at 64 years of age is a toddler amongst the established nations of the world. The Jesuits have an expression: “Give me the Child and I will give you the Man”. It means that through education and the media we are informed and shaped.
What can we do to stop the rot that has infected society?
- 1. Next time a football team chants racist abuse from the terraces, ban the club from playing against any other club for a minimum period of three months.
- 2. Tighten up the law on hate speech to reflect classic characteristics of Jewish identity. By this I mean tolerance and a broad synagogue. No Member of Parliament should be able to talk of a segment of society as a cancer. That is the characteristic behaviour of a demagogue. It is hate speech.
- 3. There are imams in Israel that quote the Koran and use it as vindication for ridiculing the infidel and disseminating hate. This is acceptable in the Muslim world. Israel is not the Muslim world. Incitement is Incitement irrespective of its source.
- 4. State Television and Radio remain effective means for teaching values as defined by society. Use them to discourage prejudice and educate against odium.
- 5. In contradiction to the above: Disengage the State from financing religion – people who have to work to survive have less time to practice prejudice.
I live in the UK and there is a perception that we are less prejudiced than any other state in Europe save Scandinavia. It is a curious observation that they both counterbalance their tolerance of bigots with an outpouring of Jew hatred and are actively spreading their poison into other nations.
I have a friend who was born in Nigeria but raised in England. He sounds far more “British” than I ever will. He is impeccably well dressed in his suit and tie, a solid, middle-class Englishman. It has not prevented him from being stopped and searched in the City of London. A black person is randomly stopped and searched four times as often as a white person here in the UK. Similarly, he is sentenced to a prison term four times as often as a white person is for the same offence.
It is what is in our hearts that creates us. Our minds merely interpret our fears and our prejudices. Judaism is a religion that teaches us to control our emotions as well as to celebrate them in a positive manner that benefits society and not just the passions of the individual.
Israel is a refugee nation and that in itself creates tremendous pressures and growing pains but Judaism is a system of ethical inclusion and a roadmap for how to integrate the other into society. The ultra-orthodox community are incapable of externalising this strand of Jewish belief because they are themselves fractured in their identity. Like all fundamentalists their in-fighting and rejection of normative Judaism makes them incapable of relating to anyone else not like themselves.
The refugees amongst us can be a vehicle for good if they are assimilated into our society. Their identities can reinvigorate ours.