If you’ve ever visited r/atheism or any major atheist and skeptic sites, you’re probably well aware of the martyr complex, the guilt trip used by religious fundamentalists who believe that not being allowed to impose the will of their leaders on the rest of the society they inhabit, is tantamount to persecution. In the United States this is often played out in attempts to institute public prayer, force the government to somehow declare a preference for Christianity as the national religion, or at least as the preferred religion of the state. In Israel, ultra-Orthodox communities’ demands to segregate and control the nation have far more severe consequences. Their towns in West Bank settlements are quickly becoming security hazards according to growing voices from the IDF and lately, they’ve gone overboard by invoking the history of Jewish persecution in Europe in a way that I could only describe as downright shameful. Jewish history is filled with stories of being chased out of counties and hunted down by members of other faiths. and those stories are quoted on a regular basis. But not like this.
You see, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem upset that the secular authorities interrupted their effort to enforce segregation by gender around them with harassment and violence, marched in protest of the police putting a man who vandalized a religiously liberal bookshop in jail, while wearing yellow stars of David. Yes, the same yellow stars Jews were forced to wear by medieval Inquisitors and Nazi extermination squads. Apparently, the police frowning on a Jewish fundamentalist harassing and attacking people who don’t follow a 3,000 year old morality codex and don’t object to being in the same space as other humans with different genitals or suffer a panic attack imagining how G-d will punish them for behaving like sane, modern people, is exactly the same as the Holocaust. This was such an extreme and exploitative display that several prominent Israeli politicians blew a fuse or two, demanding that ultra-Orthodox rabbis condemn these protest. The rabbis responded by whining about the Israeli media apparently ignoring vicious attacks on their followers by secularists.
Considering that the ultra-Orthodox are often said to be a drain on Israel who demand state benefits with free education for their enormous families (yes, enormous, I’ve personally seen ten to 16 child families in Tel Aviv with frightening regularity) after which they often refuse to recognize the state or follow secular laws they don’t like, of course there’s a lot of tension between them and secular Israelis. However, it’s really hard to buy the tale of systematic persecution of the ultra-Orthodox when they’re the ones vandalizing private property, spitting on little girls, and assaulting soldiers for not immediately bulldozing over Arab protests in the West Bank. So I certainly understand why their claims that Arab grievances get aired in Israeli press while the media censors tales of their plight would fall on deaf years. They’re wild exaggerations at best or outright fabrications at worst and their ridiculous stunt in Jerusalem hardly adds credence to their claims. If anything, the Israeli secularists see spoiled, authoritarian bullies who demand government handout after government handout spitting on the deaths of their grandparents and great-grandparents because they refuse to follow the laws of the land.
Oh and by the way, ultra-Orthodox Jews imposing their will on others and clashing with secular Jews who like to pride themselves on their adaptability to the modern world is not a uniquely Israeli phenomenon. In fact, the small enclave of Kiryas Joel in New York has become a place for Judaic fundamentalists to set up their haven of intolerance and authoritarianism. When a study found it to be the poorest city in America, stories of what an unsuspecting visitor to the town may expect started coming out as did the stories of Jews who grew up there, and their interactions with Jews in nearby New York City. As one such lengthy tale shows, the result is usually very bad news for all those involved as the residents of Kiryas Joel rebel at any signs of modernity or a break with tradition while secular Jews are offended by having their ancestry being called into question when they’re lectured for listening to music or being around members of the opposite sex in public without a separation. If the ultra-Orthodox really are victims of the secular world, they certainly don’t act like victims neither in Israel or in America if we pause to consider even a small sampling of their interactions with humans who don’t want to step 800 years back in time not to be spit upon, harassed, or have their property vandalized.
[ photo illustration by Eduardo Castaldo, Newsweek ]