Activist extremists or/and religious extremists are nothing new. But it sure seems like today’s world has more then usual.
JERUSALEM — If they hadn’t been stirred already by the female soldier who was called a “slut” on a public bus, or the 8-year-old girl spit on by neighbors on the way to school, the sight of Jewish protesters dressed up in concentration-camp garb seems to have pushed much of Israeli secular society over the edge.
It happened last weekend, during a demonstration against what protesters perceived to be an unholy government incursion into their way of life: several hundred ultra-Orthodox Jews staged a rally in Jerusalem, dressed as concentration camp victims.
The protesters, part of an ultra-religious group known as Haredim, were dismayed that the government had taken down signs in their communities demanding that women walk on the opposite side of the street. Later, two ultra-Orthodox men were arrested for releasing fliers comparing the government’s treatment of Haredim to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. “We made it through Hitler, and we will make it through his successor,” one of the fliers read.
Israel’s top politicians expressed dismay.
Elie Wiesel, the Israeli Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, called the whole thing a “vile sight.” The protests were just the latest in a string of provocative incidents involving the Haredim, which have rattled Israel’s secular mainstream.
Shortly before Christmas, Israel’s top news channel aired a documentary about the eight-year-old, Naama Margolese, which described her terror at being cursed and spit on during her walk to school. The incident — which supposedly occurred because Margolese was dressed too immodestly — occurred in the ultra-Orthodox town of Beit Shemesh. A few days later, a female soldier — who some have labelled the “Israeli Rosa Parks” — tangled with a Haredi who insisted that she move to the back of the bus so that men wouldn’t have to sit next to women; he ended up calling her a “slut.”
The rise of ultra-Orthodox aggression is not new; Jerusalemites have long known not to walk through certain religious neighborhoods, like Meah Shearim, without being properly dressed, or while talking on the phone during the Sabbath, for fear of being spit on or having a dirty diaper land on their head. But the rash of incidents in the past few months, and the expansion of the confrontations outside of the Haredim’s isolated communities, has forced Israeli society to confront a growing challenge — and a demographic reality.
As it is, the Haredim compose only a small fraction of the national population — around 10 percent, experts say. But their birthrates are much higher than the general population, and by mid-century, according to some estimates, Haredim could make up between a quarter and 40 percent of Israeli society.