Hussein Shobokshi
Asharq Alawsat (Opinion)
January 3, 2012 - 1:00am

The extremism that has shamefully started to appear now in some media outlets does not come from the Middle East, and does not come from countries inside the Islamic world; rather it comes from inside Israel itself. Today the voices of violence, domination and force are coming from the traditional orthodox Jews, who make up nearly 10 percent of the current Israeli population. They now have the loudest voices and are influencing the street more effectively. They have attacked women for exposing their hair or wearing indecent clothing, they have vandalized pictures of women on advertisement boards, and they insist on gender separation in all forms of public transport. This group is today the fastest growing within the Jewish community of Israel.

The Jews have many different currents and doctrines, and not all of them are so intense. The major cities such as Tel Aviv and Jaffa are mainly inhabited by liberal and reformist Jews, but the orthodox Jews that I have referred to have taken refuge in smaller areas that are not under the same social microscope as the large cities, settling in areas such as Beit Shemesh, a town located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

This city has turned into the point of contact in the conflict between liberal and extremist currents inside Israel, a conflict that the current Israeli President Shimon Peres has called a battle for “the soul of the nation and the essence of the state”. This means that the real battle today for Israel (a country that defines itself as an exclusively Jewish state) is the battle to define what constitutes genuine Jewish practice.

Demonstrations and marches have taken place, warning against and condemning the prevalent extremism and attacks on women. These moves erupted after a group of extremists, affiliated to the traditional orthodox Jewish current, attacked an 8 year old schoolgirl on the grounds of her “indecency”, her “scandalous” clothing and her “shameful” behavior.

The media has now begun to cover the debate between the trend that objects to such extremist behavior, and fears the madness of radicalism and its dominance, and the other trend that defends the fundamentals of religion and advocates the importance of preserving them, warning of the dangers of the dissolution of Jewish identity and the disappearance of religious values.

The Knesset (Israeli parliament), in more than one session, has addressed the implications of what has happened and its impact upon society and politics. Marches opposing and condemning this growing radicalism have been led by the former Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, and the same opposition stance has been adopted by the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said “what is happening now is not the true interpretation of the spirit of the Torah”.

The extremist group affiliated to the traditional orthodox Jewish movement is known as “Haredi”, the most radical Jewish community that accounts for half the residents of the town of Beit Shemesh, with a population of 100 thousand people.

Verbal harassment, insults, swearing, spitting, cursing and derisory looks…these are the constant complaints of women who work and study in the town, all of which they receive from the resident extremist community on a regular and continuous basis. The Haredi community in Israel has two political parties, which toe the Haredi line in the Knesset and defend it.

Israel has always sought to find a balance between its Jewish identity and its declared secular line, but in the last few years it has drifted towards the right and fundamentalism, and recent events show that the issue of Israel’s social structure has gotten seriously out of control. Rabbi Rabbi Shmuel Jakobovits, a well-known orthodox leader and constant defender of the Haredi community in Israeli society, explains that the Haredis “must live in a way we believe to be correct”, and that “we know women need to be protected and safeguarded, and our way is the most appropriate for that”.

The arrival of Menachem Begin to power, followed by the emergence of Meir Kahane and Baruch Goldstein, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the rise of the Shas Party, Yisrael Beiteinu, and settler extremism…All of these are signs of the madness of extremism within Israeli society. For long years and decades, Israel has devoted itself to huge war budgets in order to attack its neighbors, but it has ignored its new enemy, which is growing like a cancer from within.


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