The Fight for a Democratic State Not a Tyrannical Theocracy In Israel – Un-Covering up!

A screenshot from a video capturing waitresses flashing their bras. Washington Post

Jerusalem waitresses flash their bras at ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting desecration of the Sabbath

JERUSALEM – Bastet, a vegan and LGBT-friendly cafe whose blue tables spill across a central Jerusalem sidewalk, is a secular oasis for residents seeking Saturday refreshment in a city that largely comes to a standstill for the Jewish Sabbath.

But each week, a procession of ultra-Orthodox men, some in their finest fur hats and gold robes, invariably marches past in a show of displeasure at the cafe’s desecration of the day of rest. “Shabbos!” they chant, using the Yiddish word for the Sabbath.

On a recent Saturday, the wait staff struck back, lifting their shirts to reveal their bras in an attempt to push back the religiously conservative demonstrators.

The confrontation reflected a central tension in modern Israel over the very nature of the state, founded by secular Zionists but with an ultrareligious population that is growing in size and influence.

That tension came to the forefront late last month, thwarting longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new government and sending a stunned nation to the polls for the second time this year. Netanyahu needed two competing factions, secular and religious, to form a governing majority in parliament, and they were deadlocked over legislation that proposes drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the military as other Israeli Jews are.

The ultrareligious parties oppose conscription as an attempt to assimilate their cloistered communities by thrusting their young men into contact with secular life and values.

But Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s ultranationalist former defence minister, has made resistance to ultra-Orthodox influence an essential part of his appeal to his political base of secular Russian-speaking immigrants. Those close to him say the conscription issue is part of his wider concern about a minority community that receives state welfare payments and tax breaks while contributing less than other Israeli taxpayers.

It is a victory

Mira Ibrahim, one of the staff who disrobed

The ultra-Orthodox, a catchall for a religious community that includes a wide range of sects, choose largely to segregate themselves from the wider Israeli society to lead a life in which religious observance is paramount. Outside influences, such as films, the Internet and mixing with secular Israelis is discouraged, if not forbidden.

But in Israel’s fragmented parliamentary democracy, the political parties representing the ultra-Orthodox have become kingmakers in recent years, elevating their agenda and carving a fault line in Israeli society that is expected to grow.

For Israelis like Klil Lifshitz, the 28-year-old lesbian who opened Bastet 2 1/2 years ago with a “super feminist” wait staff rather than decamp to liberal Tel Aviv as most of her friends had, the shrinking space for secularism is a concern.

“They have more and more power,” she said of the ultra-Orthodox. “As long as they keep having the power they do in forming coalitions and governments, they are basically going to get what they want.”

It was during an usually large demonstration last month, called by ultra-Orthodox Jews to protest what they termed Israel’s desecration of the Sabbath as the country hosted the Eurovision song contest, that the wait staff decided to make their own stand. They said the purpose was to protect their tables and make an ideological point.

Since then the ultra-Orthodox have paused their weekly walk past.

“It is a victory,” said Mira Ibrahim, one of the staff who decided to disrobe, though she said the sense of triumph was tinged by a heavy-handed police response to the demonstrators that made the staff uncomfortable.

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8 thoughts on “The Fight for a Democratic State Not a Tyrannical Theocracy In Israel – Un-Covering up!

  1. Also LM, yes, as you said the issue of the growth of the Hasidic sects is complex!

    It angers me that politicians cater to their demands due to the large voting blocs while
    they continue to milk the system and other behaviors that destroy towns, counties and
    communities.

    Yet, so many hardworking Indian immigrant foreign workers (IT, medicine, other industries) come
    here to work hard and contribute but are being denied green cards due to other complex
    political issues.

    Gosh, this is so overwhelming to think about!

  2. LM – I have heard of what is going in Israel – that the Chassidic/UOJ leadership want to take over Israel, even overstepping democratic principles to turn it into a theocracy. It sounds eerily similiar to what is going on in the NYC area – from Rockland/Orange Counties to Ocean/Monmouth County, NJ. Many non-Hasidic Jews and non-Jews have spoken about this in these areas – the catering to this special interest groups – at the expense of the larger mainstream communities and what seems to challenge the separation of church and state. You are right – large swaths of NY and NJ will turn into a third world Jewish shetl. Scarey.

    How can any society – Israel or the US – thrive if it is composed of large groups of ignorant and illiterate
    people that make up the Hasidic/UOJ community? They make the Mormons look wonderful, as esoteric as the LSD is. They believe in self-reliance and create businesses that employ non-Mormons. They also respect education, even if it is only their men! Mitt Romney case in point, even if many Americans did not like him.

    Any thoughts?

    • It is always interesting having these debates with you. Jerusalem, once a shining star on the world stage for education (think the Gymnasia HS for instance) is now reducing itself to ashes. The systems of education in Jerusalem are a disaster and getting worse. Israel is losing its brightest to other countries with the above fear in mind and there are efforts by global companies with Jewish leadership to try and attract attention to Israel as a hub for high-tech ventures. That means that bright and educated Jews are joining the diaspora, antithetical to Israel’s purpose, as a Jewish homeland. It was never intended (not by Ben Gurion when he gave some a pass from IDF service to study Talmud) that Israel would become a fundamentalist country, with the educated leaving for greener pastures, sweeter honey. The Technion, in part recognizing this problem, has created a ground-breaking effort to attract ultra-Orthodox students by making a “gap program” for the kids to learn what they need to survive in University and then a university program segregated or at least more modest so that Yeshiva educated kids can go onto secondary and even tertiary education and come out doctors, lawyers, tech geniuses, whatever. We have made an effort to highlight some of those programs on this site. The very fact that highly educated Jews are no longer viewing Israel as a place for them is problematic for all Jews everywhere. It means in essence that ultra-Orthodoxy is destroying Judaism and that cannot possibly be their intent either. The tyranny of the Jewish homeland will destroy everyone really. If leadership in any country (US, Canada, England and Israel) fails to get actively involved in enforcing rules that demand a “substantially similar” education (if funding is provided on the Country level) it will become a major problem for anywhere where the ultra-Orthodox are living and not getting educated. It does not have to be in Yeshiva however. There could be “gap programs” set up that educate these kids, something of a compromise allowing kids to study religion in a way they deem proper but also study subjects like math and science, English or French (Canada for example) or the language of statehood. Interestingly, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel do have command of Hebrew. But the problem is very complex, very, very complex. The Mormons are self-sustaining and for what its worth, far less imposing. But the stories of the OTD (off the derech) kids from ultra-Orthodox communities and escapees of the Warren Jeff’s communities are very similar, equally as scary. The difference is that in the Mormon culture the kids are educated.

      • Thanks for your response LM!

        Again, I am not trying to glorify the Mormons in any way. They have segments that are cult-like
        and I have met many people who left the LSD. I met one a few weeks back who left and came
        to the NY area many years back. Coincidentally, she married a Jewish man who also despises
        the Hadisic sects and she herself does acknowledge that the Mormons are self reliant and
        do not ever believe in living off others.

        Here is an article on Salt Lake City’s job market :
        https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2019/05/17/utah-again-ranks-no/

        I definitely have made fun of parts of NJ that Asian Indians have taken over, but at the end of the day
        as an immigrant group they contribute to the community as insular as they also are.

  3. LM – I have heard of what is going in Israel – that the Chassidic/UOJ leadership want to take over Israel, even overstepping democratic principles to turn it into a theocracy. It sounds eerily similiar to what is going on in the NYC area – from Rockland/Orange Counties to Ocean/Monmouth County, NJ. Many non-Hasidic Jews and non-Jews have spoken about this in these areas – the catering to this special interest groups – at the expense of the larger mainstream communities and what seems to challenge the separation of church and state. You are right – large swaths of NY and NJ will turn into a third world Jewish shetl. Scarey.

    How can any society – Israel or the US – thrive if it is composed of large groups of ignorant and illiterate
    people that make up the Hasidic/UOJ community? They make the Mormons look wonderful, as esoteric as the LSD is. They believe in self-reliance and create businesses that employ non-Mormons. They also respect education, even if it is only their men! Mitt Romney case in point, even if many Americans did not like him.

    Any thoughts?

    • Come on… it’s remarkable. They thrown stones as they scream “Shabbos” though I suspect if the stone breaks they’ve desecrated the Sabbath! The women are hurting no one. Totally awesome!!

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