Huffpost Religion
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Carlo Strenger Headshot

Orthodox Anti-Semitism Directed at Israel's Liberals

Posted: Updated:

A few days ago I was struck by a statement by MK Yaakov Katz of the Ichud Le'umi party about the law that will allow Justice Grunis to be Dorit Beinish's successor as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court:

"This Law returns control to the people and wrests it away from a small, pathetic group; a bunch of Tel Avivian, secular Neturei Karta that emanates lack of love for the people of Israel, and adhere to laws of the gentiles."

I found Katz's wording quite interesting indeed; its tone was somehow familiar -- and then I realized that it was exactly the tone of late 19th century anti-Semitism! Even though I was surprised at first, I realized that the connection had actually been made in the historical literature.

Jewish-American historian Sander Gilman, in his classic book "Jewish Self-Hatred," has shown how anti-Semitic metaphors and images were internalized by Jewish self-understanding in the late 19th century. The favorite anti-Semitic accusations were that Jews were a small elite. Even though they lived in Germany/France/Hungary, they were really not ethnic Germans/French/Hungarians.

They succeeded in taking control over the country against the people's will through their machinations: primarily the control over the world of finance, media and the law through which they usurped the domain of true Germans/French/Hungarians.

Gilman showed in detail how these stereotypes influenced Jewish self-perception. One of these influences was the desire to create a new Jew: Physical rather than overly cerebral; proud rather than submissive; forceful rather than manipulative. An internal form of anti-Semitism evolved -- and we can now watch its resurgence in Israel.

It is quite fascinating to see the parallels between the anti-Semitic stereotype and Katz's characterization of the "small, pathetic group" of Tel Avivis. First it is worth noting that he has moved the stereotype of the liberal elite from Rechavia, where the right usually locates it, to Tel Aviv.

Second: it is interesting to note his metaphor of the "secular Neturei Karta." Neturei Karta is an ultra-Orthodox group located in Jerusalem that was strongly anti-Zionist and never recognized the state of Israel. By linking the liberal elite with Neturei Karta, he turns both into enemies of the state of Israel.

Third: in precise analogy to the anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews, he accuses the Tel Avivian elite to adhere to the laws of the Gentiles. A favorite anti-Semitic accusation was that Jews were cosmopolitan and not true patriots of their country, didn't really love it, but represented a vague international threat.

Fourth: another anti-Semitic claim was that was that in their devious machinations Jews had taken away the country from the simple people who loved the land and the nation. This is, in Katz's statement, what Tel Avivian Elite has done to the simple lovers of Israel. And now he would, together with his heroic group of coalition MKs, take back the country from this pathetic elite.

Together with Professor of Jewish philosophy Menachem Lorbeerbaum, I have argued that Israel's ruling coalition misleads with its claim of making Israel truly Jewish. The reality is that this coalition is simply reviving 19th century European nationalism. Katz and his colleagues want exactly the type of ethnocracy that German, French, Hungarian and other nationalists wanted in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Israel's liberals are cast as the "Jewish villains." Overly cerebral, they bow to the "laws of the gentiles." How lovely is the analogy of European chauvinists a century ago who accused Jews of being the agents alternatively of "international Bolshevism" and "international capitalism"! Katz et al simply can't stand the idea of being constrained by an "un-Jewish" conception of human rights that apply to all, even, God forbid, Israeli Arabs.

Katz, Yariv Levin, Danny Danon are now gradually coming out of the closet. They feel the same visceral hatred toward liberal Israelis that European nationalists felt toward Jews; and like them, they want to purge Israel of liberal influence.

Recently, the door of Chagit Ofran, an activist for Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), was sprayed with the words "Rabin is waiting." Liberals are now becoming fair game for persecution in Israel. Yisrael Beitenu's Minister of Internal Security Aharonovitch, not exactly a leftist, recently warned that the next political murder is around the corner.

This is no surprise. When our law-makers apply every possible anti-Semitic stereotype to Israel's liberals, the step toward tag mechir, the policy of taking revenge on anybody who opposes settlement policy, is not far. I am not implying that these MKs intend to incite to violence, but they must take responsibility for the possible consequences of the hatred they express.

Three years ago Zeev Sternhell, Israel Prize Laureate in History and political science, was attacked with a bomb in front of his doorstep. At the time, I reacted by writing an op-ed entitled "I accuse" modeled, of course, on Emile Zola's famous letter to the President of the French Republic. Zola's letter was written about the Dreyfus affair -- the notorious anti-Semitic accusation. I argued that the right's open hatred for the left had paved the ground for attacks on liberals like Sternhell. I didn't claim they were inciting violence, but that it is insincere to deny the connection between creating an atmosphere of hatred, and the violence it can engender.

Three year later Israel's right has learned nothing from the past -- the opposite is true: drunk with power it unleashes nationalist hatred on Israel's liberals. The signs are ominous; but when the next murder will happen, they will, again, deny any responsibility for having legitimated blind hatred.

Around the Web

Religion in Israel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

BBC News - King's Torah splits Israel's religious and secular Jews

Israeli secular, religious ministers hold heated debate over women's ...

Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Jews Clash with Secular Courts - TIME