‘Parasites’, ‘traitors’, ‘you breed like rabbits’, ‘welfare scroungers’; these kinds of insults sound familiar and the reader may not be surprised to know they are aimed at an historically oppressed minority, namely the Jews. More surprising perhaps is that these epithets come from other Jews. This war of words, intimidation and some violence (which actually runs both ways) is raging in Israeli occupied Palestine. Largely ignored by pro-Palestinian radicals, the battle between secular and mainstream religious on the one hand and Ultra-Orthodox Jews on the other may well shape the future prospects of liberating Palestine. Indeed the ultra-orthodox, or Haredi as they are known, have been described as the greatest threat to the state of Israel. Recent conflicts over schooling, housing and particularly extending conscription to the once exempt haredim have heightened tensions and led to an increase in the racist-like sentiments noted above.
The haredim make up something over 10% of Israel’s population but it is their high birth rate which is worrying the Israeli authorities. As Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza are also having more children than non-Haredi Israelis a ‘demographic threat’ has been perceived by the Israeli establishment. You would have thought therefore that the Haredi’s large families would have been welcome to off-set the Palestinians but that is far from the case.
Whilst being largely inactive economically – Haredi men are suppose to devote their lives to studying the Torah (hence the ‘welfare scrounger’ label) – many are also opposed to Zionism, as they believe the state of Israel should only be created when the messiah appears (as an atheist who supports the Palestinian cause this is a view I am comfortable with). Understandably, Hamas have made strides in developing an alliance with the most radical anti-Zionist Haredi group, Nuetri Karta.
Whilst the anti-Haredi sentiment, which goes all the way to the Knesset, demonstrates the ‘Jewish state’ is clearly not welcoming of all Jews, it is not only the ultra-orthodox who have been affected. Recent revelations, after years of suspicion, that the repeated forced use of the contraceptive drug Depo-Provera on thousands of Falasha women (black Ethiopian Jews), effectively forcibly sterilising an ethnic minority, illustrate the racist nature of Israel even before we look at the treatment of Palestinians.
The recent mass deportations of African refugees and the ethnic cleansing of Bedouin villages in the Negev may also be seen to be signs of Israel’s growing paranoia and increasing repression of minorities.
The issue of the Haredi goes way beyond Israel’s borders as there are significant communities in several Western countries. Again there are tensions as other Jews resent the apparent demographic shift taking place in favour of the Haredi sects. This is important insofar as Israel depends on support from the Jewish diaspora when it comes to lobbying Western Governments. As an indication of a growing Haredi community beginning to dent support for Israel in the diaspora, see this video of a recent anti-conscription protest in New York….
There are contradictions for the left here as well. Whilst supporting the Haredi in their campaign against conscription is relatively easy and supporting their anti-Zionist stance equally so, in virtually all other social issues the haredim are reactionaries. Putting aside the issue of atheism versus religion, they tend to be deeply homophobic and patriarchal. Segregated buses (with women sitting at the back), modesty patrols and other such policies have been enacted in Haredi areas of Israel (to the horror of secular Israelis) and even in parts of the diaspora. Some Haredi sects have been likened to the Taliban because of the way they view women and the way women in these movements dress.