Yes, secular Jews are Jewish too


You should be ashamed. That’s all I have to say to the hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews who protested in Jerusalem’s Sabbath Square on Saturday night. Some of the demonstrators wore yellow Star of David badges; others dressed in concentration camp-like uniforms to symbolize the Nazi regime’s prosecution of Jews during World War II. Their point: to say that the secular majority has made them the scapegoats of everything wrong in Israel and that the country incriminates their “Jewish” way of life.


Like most Israelis whom for years have put up with the lack of public transportation on Saturdays, the barricaded streets on Shabbat, and the ridiculous teachings in state schools, I’d usually turn a blind eye and nod to their nonsense. This time, however, they’ve crossed a dangerous line. You see that’s the issue when a country’s entire national identity is tied to the Holocaust. When you invoke that weapon, it could quickly turn into a double-edged sword. This morning, everyone from Defence Minister Ehud Barak to Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni, expressed the outrage that echoed across Israeli dailies and social networks.



Enough is enough. This isn’t an argument about a religious versus a secular way of life. Spitting on a seven-year-old girl in Beit Shemesh constitutes as harassment and the individuals who are propagating these kinds of behavior are going to face the law.  Defending them, by invoking the false analogy of the Shoah is scandalous and offensive.


Unfortunately, Israeli politicians slapping the Haredi community on the wrists and telling them that they are doing “bad, bad, things” is not going to cut it. This is a wake up call for them too. For far too long your arms have been twisted to believe in the narrow logic of a Jewish democracy, leaving you to build “consensus” with extreme religious groups. You have attempted to appease them but each and every time you give another piece of an ever so brittle democracy.



Daniel Hartman expresses this malaise in his blog:


“The failure of the remaining 80 percent of Israeli society lies in the fact that it has not of late produced sufficient heroes of its own with a vision of the values necessary to create a liberal Jewish democracy, as well as the values which give primacy to the people over land, and to the State over tribal ideologies and loyalties. When encountering the ideological heroism and agenda of the settlers and the ultra-Orthodox, most of Israel capitulates.

"The fault is not in the political system but in a combination of ideological weakness, a lack of comprehensive values agenda, and a deficiency in heroism when it comes to internal Israeli policy. This has created a lethal cocktail for the future of Israeli society, a cocktail which seems to have anesthetized much of Israel into acquiescing to demands made by those who seem to care more about the issues than they do.



"But the problem is even more severe. The timidity of the majority of Israel is enabling the heroism of the settlers and the ultra-Orthodox to morph into fanaticism. When one is not challenged nor forced to confront the limits of one’s own arguments, there will always be some who interpret this as license to cross the line”.

Indeed, the problem is even more severe. However, it has to do with the notion that a liberal Jewish democracy can exist. By definition, a modern Jewish state that advocates for the rights of a particular group of people that is defined a “raced religion”  (read: Jews) is a twenty-first-century theocracy.



Let’s not forget that the majority of European Jews before World War II were not members of ultra-Orthodox Hardi communities as we’ve come to know them today. They were traditionalists. They kept the Sabbath, lived in shtetls, married other Jews but were not Haredim. In Germany, France and the U.S., many were secular. The Haredi movement of the late 1800s was a complete knee-jerk reaction to modernity and to European nationalism. Herzl and the first waves of Zionists just created their own version.


The problem with today’s Haredi movement is more of the same. They have co-opted history to blame all non-ultra Orthodox and secular Jews and say, “you see, that is why they killed us during the Holocaust. Had you honored your faith, we would have survived”. When in reality, all Jews were victims of the most extreme form of nationalism.



And today it seems that we too have become victims of the same Nazi logic. This time, we’re doing it to ourselves. Instead of owning up to this truth, we prefer to expound the logic of Nazis themselves with a twist, propagating the “Jewish homeland”. We build settlements, openly discriminate non-Jewish communities because “they have a nation-state somewhere in the world”, and now even watch as a young girl is openly harassed.  This ideology is so extreme, even us poor secular folk will parish in the Gehenom concentration camp.



Romina Ruiz-Goiriena
Paris Charles de Gaulle airport en route to Guatemala by way of Mexico City

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