I recently read, with dismay, Zev Chafets’ Times of Israel blog post suggesting that Israeli Haredim, who he pejoratively called “The Black Hats,” establish their own state and separate from the rest of “liberal” Israeli society. Apart from the tone of the piece, which is condescending at best and vitriolic at worst, his argument is overly simplistic and misses the point of the Zionist dream. It is also emblematic of pervasive intolerance towards Haredim in many Jewish circles, a phenomenon which is often overlooked.
First, Chafets draws a false dichotomy between “liberals” and “The Black Hats.” In addition to the prejudiced term he employs that mocks the unique dress of a minority (a standard which is not, and should not be, tolerated for other minorities), the picture he paints is one in which Haredim oppose all elements of a liberal society (an independent judiciary among them), with the rest of the country supporting it. This is far from the reality on the ground.
The largest party in the Israeli government currently pushing illiberal policy positions is the Likud, which is historically a secular party (albeit with somewhat of a traditional slant). Its leader and current prime minister is a secular Jew, Benjamin Netanyahu, and its secular justice minister, Yariv Levin, is at the forefront of the current attempt to weaken Israel’s judiciary. Most Likud voters are not Haredi, and a significant swath of them are secular. Religious Zionists — the sector, not the party — are also among the most prominent propagators of the plan (such as Simcha Rothman), although many oppose it as well. Clearly, it is not a Haredi/liberal divide; it is a divide of people who support the plan versus people who do not, with each side containing members of all segments of Israeli society, even if various groups incline towards a certain position (there have been many right-wing figures who have come out against the plan or have implored the government to compromise).
Chafets’ simplistic attempt to conceive of the debate as Haredim vs. everyone completely misses the mark, and is simply an attempt to use Haredim as a scapegoat and blame them for social ills in Israel. Similar campaigns have included Avigdor Liberman, a senior Israeli politician, blaming Israeli problems on Haredim, even going so far as to say that he will “send the Haredim… to the garbage dump.” It is fear-mongering, it is prejudiced, and it is wrong.
Additionally, Chafets’ proposal is anathema to the Zionism that I know and love: a Zionism in which all Jews, no matter their beliefs, have a singular, unified home to come back to. A Zionism in which, no matter how much disagreement exists, Jews live with one another in unity and tolerance. Although this may be an idealization, its pursuit is what the Zionist dream is all about. Even if it is not the current reality, it is one to strive for.
Finally, the concerning suggestion to split Israel into two Jewish states is a manifestation of the pervasive anti-Haredi sentiment found in many Jewish circles. It is very possible that I would agree with Chafets regarding many of the concrete issues he is concerned about in Haredi society. There are many issues to be addressed, as there are in any community. However, there is a way to talk about societal improvement without resorting to prejudiced and degrading rhetoric. His presentation of Haredim as the “other” — the Jews among Jews, in a sense — is nothing less than an example of bigotry and prejudice, even if conveyed in liberal terms. His article is replete with generalizations of Haredi society, all too common amongst non-Haredi Jews who harbor an implicit, or explicit, anti-Haredi bias.
In reality, Haredi society is far from a monolith: there are Hasidim, Litvaks, Sephardim, and sub-groups upon sub-groups, each with their own respective philosophies and approaches to life. He writes about how “they are taught to see secular Israelis as a pernicious species of goyim,” without mentioning that many Haredi groups emphasize the value of ahavat Yisrael, the love of every Jewish person (one recent example includes greeting mostly secular Tel Aviv protestors with cholent). He presents all Haredim as vociferous opponents of Zionism and the State of Israel, when in reality much of Haredi society is simply non-Zionist, with many people valuing positive relations with the state. In fact, the largest Haredi party, Shas, officially associates with the World Zionist Congress.
The Zionist dream is not one of a separated Jewish polity. The Jewish people should share a state because we share a future. The response to disagreement ought to be dialogue, not division. But even if separation were a prudent policy position, there are ways to talk about issues without resorting to condescension and hasty generalizations, as is regrettably done in the post.
We should all heed Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ call to reject the politics of anger, embrace the politics of hope, and recognize that the people not like us are just people, like us. Because, in his words, there is dignity that lies in our differences. Anashim achim anachnu: we are all one nation, with one unified fate.