Middah K’Neged Middah
There exists an eerie parallel between the treatment of Israel by the international media and the treatment of chareidim in the Israeli media. Within two days of the Gaza flotilla incident, videos showing the Israeli naval commandos who rappelled onto the Mavi Marmara deck being set upon with metal bars and knives were available to all news outlets, and the association of those killed with jihadist groups well-documented.
Nevertheless both the United Nations and the United Nations Human Rights Council pushed forward with demands for an international investigation, and much of the international press continued to write about the event as an act of wanton murder. Reuters took a particularly creative approach to uncomfortable facts: it simply photo-shopped them out of existence. The knife in the hands of one of the jihadists, which had been used to eviscerate the commander of the Israeli forces, disappeared from the Reuters photo.
Moreover, the international press turned the flotilla into a huge public relations success by continuing to write about the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza as an established fact. Few of those reporting on that crisis seemed the slightest bit interested in actually visiting Gaza to witness the crisis firsthand. Had they done so they would have seen consumer goods in plentiful supply at prices far lower than in neighboring Egypt, and learned that the life expectancy in Gaza is higher and infant mortality far lower than in Turkey, from which the “humanitarian” flotilla was launched.
A similar obliviousness to facts permeates much of the reporting of the chareidi world in the Israeli secular press. The Emmanuel case provides a clear case in point. There is no dispute that over a quarter of the girls in the so-called chassidic track in Emmanuel and nearly one-third of the fathers jailed for contempt were Sephardi. And any reporter who took the time to read the Court’s opinion would have confronted early on a lengthy citation from the report of a non-religious inspector (a former high official in the State Comptroller’s office), appointed by the Education Ministry. He concludes that differing religious standards, not ethnic discrimination, lay behind the division of the Emmanuel Bais Yaakov. He also wrote that no girl of Sephardi origin who agreed to the more rigorous standards of the chassidic track was rejected.
Yet the media continues to report Emmanuel as an open-and-shut case of the most blatant ethnic discrimination. Daniel Gordis, for instance, a respected commentator, described the mass rally in support of the imprisoned parents as a rally to “insist on their right to racial discrimination in their schools.”
BUT THE PARALLELS go much deeper. Both the Europeans’ misrepresentation of everything connected to Israel and the secular media’s treatment of chareidim derive, in part, from an effort to assuage past guilt. Europeans love to portray Israelis as the new Nazis and Gaza as a concentration camp. At anti-Israeli rallies in major European capitals, after the alleged shooting of a Palestinian boy, Mohammed al-Dura, at Netzarim junction in 2000, a favorite poster juxtaposed the iconic photo of the terrified boy cowering behind his father to the famous photo of a frightened Jewish boy with his hands in the air in front of a Nazi soldier. (The only major difference: the footage of the al-Dura “shooting” has since then been conclusively proven to be a hoax.)
French intellectual Alain Finkielkraut describes an entire theory that has enabled European elites to “prove” that the Jews are the new Nazis. According to the theory, a new Europe was born in the ashes of Auschwitz, a Europe so horrified by the Holocaust that its most fundamental lesson was that never again must any people be treated as “the Other,” as somehow less human. While Europeans born since 1945 have all thoroughly internalized the lesson of Europe’s failure during the Holocaust, the theory goes, one people has not: the Jews. Because Jews were the victims and not the perpetrators, they never felt that need to learn the lesson. From there it is but a short step for European elites to conclude that Jews have assumed the role of the new Nazis and the Palestinians that of the Jewish Other.
The beauty of the Nazi-Jew analogy is that it absolves Europeans of their guilt for what they did to the Jews by telling them that the Jews are no better than they, and that if given half a chance would act in an equally genocidal matter towards other peoples.
A similar element is at play in the Israeli media’s obsession with chareidi racism. Amotz Asa-el writes in last week’s Jerusalem Post, that ethnic discrimination “exists nowhere else” besides chareidi society “[because] it is antithetical to the most basic Zionist quest.” Ho-ho-ho. Has Asa-el forgotten how Jews from Arab lands were systematically stripped of their 2,000 year religious-cultural heritage?
He is old enough to remember how the Ashkenazi elite rent its garments and lamented the takeover by the lower orders, the chachakim, when Menachem Begin came to power in 1977. And surely he is familiar with the huge gaps that remain between Ashkeanazim and Sephardim in Israeli society. Portraying the chareidim as the only reservoir of the racism of the Galut can only be understood as an effort to achieve absolution.
ONE QUESTION REMAINS: Could there also be an element of middah k’neged middah in the treatment of chareidim by the Israeli media and the chareidi media itself? The Emmanuel case brings the question sharply to the fore because an element of a Divine gezeirah seems evident in the portrayal of chareidim. The Slonimer Chassidim accused of racism are among the least vulnerable groups in chareidi society to that charge. Ahavas Yisrael permeates the Nesivos Shalom of the previous rebbe. Almost alone among major chassidic groups, Slonimer chassidim did not withdraw from the general Bais Yaakov system in Jerusalem in1989 to set up their own schools.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves whether the objectivity of our own media is ever subverted by partisanship. Do we ever ignore major events in the chareidi world because they are sponsored by groups with whom we do not identify? Do we ever refuse to identify major players in important events by name, as a means of showing contempt? Just asking.