Satmar: Do They Take Us For Fools?
I was puzzled by the anguished responses of some of my friends to the videos of children at two Satmar camps being indoctrinated in the fine art of hatred of Zionists. Publicized on Yeshiva World News, the leaked videos showed children chanting slogans like “A Jew is not a Zionist,” and at one of the camps, all of them pelting a vehicle they were led to believe contained PM Netanyahu with eggs.
Sure, I was disgusted by this on many levels. How many enemies of our people would argue that Jews are no better than Hamas, whose summer camps teach thousands of children in Gaza to murder Israelis? (To be fair, in the Hamas camps, the kids are throwing grenades, known to be unsafe to humans and other life forms. Satmar’s eggs could probably, at worst, elevate cholesterol levels for a short period of time.) How many more Satmar kids will be taught not that they are proud bearers of their communities banner, but that they are the only authentic Jews! How unthinking of the organizers of these activities not to take into account how they embolden those whose intentions are nothing less than genocidal!
But was this really the worst that we’ve seen from Satmar? What about public demonstrations at the Israeli Consulate in NY – at a time that Israel was under intense pressure in the world community – in front of the watchful eyes of the world? Does anyone believe that people have not tried again and again to elicit some responsibility from Satmar leadership, and always come up wanting? Why the surprise? Move on. There is nothing the rest of us are going to do about it, other than being better examples of Jews to our friends and neighbors than they can be.
Yet this episode did irk me considerably. Surely whoever was responsible (and it was assuredly not all of Satmar; Jerusalem Post published dissent within the community) must have known about the battle Satmar is facing with the State of New York over its disregard for state law about providing secular education to children. Parents and other interested parties, both in Satmar and those who bolted from it, pushed the State to enforce the current statute, claiming that Satmar non-compliance was sentencing children to a life of poverty and reliance on the public dole. Without minimal skills in English and other parts of a core curriculum, a new generation of Satmar Chassidim will remain unemployable in all but a small number of occupations.
Satmar was clearly worried. They convened a very visible conference on updating the secular curriculum in their schools. None of us outsiders knows whether they were serious, or this was a staged event to signal the State that they were prepared to address their concerns, even if they were not. Either way, they were worried that there could be untoward consequences of losing the battle with the State.
How, then, could the Satmar spokesman in Israel come up with a statement so crass, cynical and unbelievable:
“This is very respectable,” Yitzhak Weiss, a supporter of Zalman Leib and a spokesman for the Satmar Hassidim in Israel told The Jerusalem Post, regarding the camp affiliated with his faction.
“They are showing them democratic values so when they grow up they can express themselves and demonstrate. We teach them freedom of speech.” He said the children are taught the values and principles that belong to their community, saying it is a “beautiful thing” that it is their right to protest a state and prime minister who, for instance, “force their brothers to go to the army.”
Was there no worry that such a statement would intensify all the pushback against Satmar’s refusal to provide minimal education to their children? No concern that the camp activity would convince people that living in enforced isolation from the rest of us was the incubator of attitudes that they saw in the videos? That somehow Jews who lived with some degree of connection with the external world developed more tolerance?
Did the author of those lines take us all – the State, and the rest of us non-Jewish Jews – for utter fools? Or, perhaps he knows that Satmar, as one of the last groups with guaranteed bloc voting, has enough influence with politicians that it can say or do anything it wants? In which case our confidence in the American political system – complete or limited – actually does make us fools?