Friday, June 18, 2010

The Old Mexican Standoff in Emmanuel




1.  The headlines in Israel are filled with the story of the court ordering the mass arrest and imprisonment of a group of ultra-Orthodox "hareidi" parents for disobeying a court order that commands them to send their children to one school and not to another.  The world media have discovered the story of intra-Jewish "racism" inside Israel.  By and large they are just repeating the twist on the story that the Israeli secularist leftist media have attributed to it.  And, as usually happens, the media brutally subordinated the story to their own biases and ideological agenda, in so doing getting just about everything possible wrong in the story.


The media despise the hareidim.  The media consider them people refusing to live in the modern real world, hiding in their cloistered communities from reality, often living as parasites off the public dole.  The media also claim that some hareidim hotheads turn violent whenever anything annoys them, ranging from parking lots operating on the Sabbath to the court seizing custody from a mentally ill abusive hareidi mother who starved her children.  Up to that point, the media are completely correct.  But the media do not rest at denouncing the hareidim for those things for which they deserve to be denounced, and instead paint them as everything demonic and evil in the universe, down to and including "racist."   The media people, almost all of them being leftists, have problems completing a sentence that does not include the word "racist," usually applied to Israelis who disagree with the far Left.   


Ask any Israel or any non-Israeli who has heard about the judicial Mexican standoff regarding the girls' school in Emannuel and they will tell you it is all about "racism," by Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox against Sephardim/Mizrachim.  I googled "Emannuel girls school racism" as a set of key words and got 78,000 hits in English and 36,000 in Hebrew.


Putting aside the silliness of referring to intra-Jewish sub-ethnic tensions as "racism," a shallow reading beyond the headlines in Israel's conscripted media is enough to show that there is much more to the story than meets the blind eye.  For one, the SHAS party, which was created in the first place as a sort of Sephardic religious power block and Sephardic pride juggernaut, is backing the Ashkenazi parents in the feud (with a few SHAS leaders on the other side).   Then the leading Israeli journalist denouncing the courts and the media misrepresentation of the story is Maariv's Ben Dror Yemini, himself from a Yemenite family and a long time leading voice of Sephardic pride and protest. 


While the Emmanuel story is complex, virtually nothing in the story has anything to do with ethnic prejudice or bigotry.  It has a lot to do with hareidi autonomy, state funding for independent ultra-Orthodox schools, school choice, and judicial tyranny.


First of all, despite the media's obsession with painting the Ashkenazi parents from the Emmanuel girls' school as anti-Sephardic bigots, the school itself is far more integrated than most secular schools in Israel, with around one third of the girls in the school coming from Sephardic/Mizrachi families.  Moreover, the girls "rejected" by the school attend a nearby predominantly Sephardic religious sister school in which large numbers of Ashkenazi girls study.  It turns out that a handful of Sephardic girls were indeed denied admission to the first school, but the real reason seems to be some questions in the minds of the local school board about their devotion to the ultra-fanatical version of religiosity practiced in the community in question.


The Ashkenazi parents in the controversy are mainly members of the Slonim Chassidic "court."  They are ultra-Orthodox fanatics.  But ultra-Orthodox fanatics have the same right to raise their children the way they want as the rest of us.  They have a long track record of admitting girls to their community school from outside their "court," as long as the girls comply with the admittedly-loopy notions of religiosity in which they believe.  These include such cosmic matters as buttoning girls shirts to the neck and not one button shy of the neck, praying using the texts and pronunciations the Slonim use, and so on.


The "Ashkenazi-Sephardic" feud in the school is not.  Not Ashkenazi-Sephardic, that is.   It is instead between ultra-ultra-ultra-hareidim, who do not want any kids in the school whose notions of religiosity fall one shirt button below their own, and an imperious "judicial activist" court that demands that they do so.  It is a feud between religious ultras and those somewhat less religious. 


Now most Sephardic families are far more sensible than the Slonim hareidim in their own personal religiosity, although some prefer the Slonim school for their kids.  Where the school admissions committee has doubts about the devotion of a student's family to their own brand of observance, they send the kid instead to the nearby predominantly Sephardic girls school, where neck buttons may be unbuttoned in wild abandon.  (I am reminded of the old joke about the hareidi prohibition on dancing because it can lead to exercising!)


The whole conflict was brought before the court when a family of two girls turned down by the school got themselves some lawyers, evidently paid for by the New Israel Fund, always happy to fund campaigns that attack the Orthodox and make Israel look evil and "racist" in the world.


The Ashkenazi judges in the court eventually sided with the petitioners.   Hundreds of Ashkenazi parents in the school then decided to bus their kids away to a different school in Bnai Brak, rather than risk the kids being contaminated by any button openers.   The court then ordered them to desist and to return their kids to the Emmanuel school. They refused.  The court then ordered dozens of parents to be imprisoned for contempt of court.  They are rotting in prison as we e-speak.


Now let me be clear.  I would not send any of my kids to any such school, and would never move to a community in which such hareidim were the dominant social group.  I do not like the hareidim and disapprove of their notions of religiosity.  I am all in favor of conditioning state funding to their schools on such things as their adding a bit of math and science to Talmud studies, to make their students gainfully employable, and to deny state funding if they decline the offer.   If they are willing to forego funding, then I think the state should butt out and let them run their schools as they see fit.  Let me also add that if anyone suspects me of any anti-Sephardic bigotry, they will have to contend with my wife, who was a proud militant Sephardic woman long before she married this Ashkenazi twit 25 years ago last week.  Don't worry, dear, I will be done with the blogging in a few moments and will then attend to the hoovering.  (That is the secret of the 25 years!)


But anyway, that is NOT what Israeli governments have been doing.  To buy the support of the hareidi parties for government coalitions, both Labor and Likud have long ladled out funding to hareidi schools with no conditionality at all.  Including with regard to admissions criteria for students.   Those long-time dirty deals of tossing out pecuniary pork with no conditions in exchange for political backing created the current Emmanuel standoff.


But I also believe in democracy and pluralism.  I believe Jews in Israel have the right to live and to school their kids in ways different from my own notions. 


I also believe that the worst fanatics in this story are the judicial activists in robes in the court.  Yes, that group of Ashkenazi-only judges that issued the contempt injunction and order for the mass arrest of the parents.  And the media talking heads cheering on the court and its "defense of democracy" were also entirely Ashkenazim!


The very same courts have ordered no one at all arrested after a judicial writ was issued earlier recognizing that the Jews who owned property in the Simon the Righteous (Sheikh Jarrah) neighborhood are the legal owners and have the right to evict the Arabs squatting in their housing units.  When those court orders were ignored by the Arabs, backed by demonstrations of leftists led by Hebrew University professors, no one was arrested for contempt. 


The court has picked a fight with the huge hareidi community, and yesterday tens of thousands took to the streets in their black hats and winter coats in the 95 degree heat to challenge the legitimacy of the court's decision.  I do not see how the court can win in this battle.


I attach below a short piece on the conflict written by my buddy David Bedein.  He and I go back to the Philadelphia 60s together, but I will save those tales for another time:



What is happening in Emanuel: Not an Ethnic Schism. Rather, the result of a social work policy from 40 years ago






Beit Agron International Press Center

37 Hillel St


tel. 02 6236368


The conflict that now ensues in the city of Emanuel has little to do with ethnic tensions between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jewish Israelis.


Speaking from experience a social work community organizer who worked in the field in the 1970's and 1980's, short sighted bureaucratic decisions that were made then are coming home to roost, a generation later.


The idea then was to lump all lower class people into new housing units and into new towns, with the hope that they would get along with one another.


The Israel Housing Ministry and what was then called the Israel Welfare Ministry mixed families with social problems with working families, and also mixed strictly observant Sephardic families with less strictly observant Sephardic families, with the hope that they would get along with one another.


As the more strictly observant Sephardic families began to choose more traditional schools for their children to learn in, they were not interested in welcoming the less observant Sephardic families to attend their schools, which maintained more rigid standards in terms of dress code, television watching, etc.


A particular Sephardic women in Emmanuel whose daughter was rejected by the school in Emanuel because the standards of religious observance of her daughter and of her family did not meet the requirements of the school.


That Sephardic woman is media savvy.


She contacted the New Israel Fund, the Shas Party and just about every reporter whom she could get a hold of and claimed that she was being discriminated against because she was a Sephardic Jew.


The NIF, Shas and the media had a field day, as did some Orthodox Rabbis like Rabbi Yuval Sharlo of Efrat who appeared on Kol Yisrael on June 17 and condemned the school in Emmanuel for "racist and discriminatory behavior."


The NIF and Shas, stranger bedfellows as they are, sued in the Israel High Court of Justice to demand that the Israel High Court of Justice order the school in Emanuel to admit the less observant Sephardic girls into their school.


The NIF and Shas were successful in their suit, and the Israel High Court of Justice demanded that any parent who refused to send their children to school under such circumstances be jailed.


And, indeed, 61 sets of parents announced that they were ready to go to jail rather than admit the less observant Sephardic girls to the school.


27 of those sets of parents are themselves Sephardic Jews.


Does that fact affect the NIF, Shas and Rabbi Sharlo? Time will tell.



2.  Jeff Foxworthy is one of my favorite comedians.  He is best known for his "Well, then you just might be a redneck) shticks.  I have tried to mimic his style, such as here:

You Just Might Be An Assimilated Jewish Liberal...


(I reprint my own pale imitation at the end of this posting, but I admit I am not really as funny as he.)


Anyway, he evidently just put the following item out and I think it is worth distributing:


Some interesting observations on the Taliban by that great American

philosopher, Jeff Foxworthy.




1. You refine heroin for a living, but you have a moral objection to



2. You own a $3,000 machine gun and $5,000 rocket launcher, but you

can't afford shoes.


3. You have more wives than teeth.


4. You wipe your butt with your bare hand, but consider bacon "unclean."


5. You think vests come in two styles: bullet-proof and suicide.


6. You can't think of anyone you haven't declared Jihad against.


7. You consider television dangerous, but routinely carry explosives

in your clothing.


8. You were amazed to discover that cell phones have uses other than

setting off roadside bombs.


9. You have nothing against women and think every man should own at

least four.


10. You've always had a crush on your neighbor's goat.


11. Your cousin is president of the United States     




3.  Speaking of funny stories, Maariv has a really fascinating tiny note within the weekend column of Kalman Liebskind (who devoted his last column to bashing the academic fifth column in Israel).  Liebskind responds to an adoring sycophantic column that was published the previous week about convicted traitor and spy Shamai Leibowitz, now a guest of the American penal system.


You may recall that Leibowitz, the grandson of Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, was nabbed by the FBI for leaking classified security documents to his Palestinian terrorist friends and their fellow travelers.  Well, Israel's leading daily, Yediot Ahronot, did a piece celebrating Shamai as a great moral hero, a tragic noble role model.  The main positive thing that one can say about Yediot Ahronot these days is that it is not as fanatical and treasonous as "Haaretz."


Anyways, as part of the Yediot beatification of Shamai, they showed a graffitus, a graffiti slogan, painted on a supermarket wall near Shamai's former residence.   The slogan proclaimed Shamai a courageous attorney, one deserving of support.  Yediot showed the wall with the graffiti to illustrate the great respect Shamai commands among the enlightened ones.


Only one itsy bitsy problem with that.   Shamai was arrested when he was caught in the act of painting that slogan maliciously on the supermarket wall himself!  


So much for Yediot fact checking. 


You might even say that Shamai got caught smack in the middle of performing a Michael Lerner.      




You Just Might Be An Assimilated Jewish Liberal...

By: Steven Plaut

Date: Friday, June 27 2003

Those who watch the Tennessee Country Music Network or Comedy Central have come across comedian Jeff Foxworthy. Foxworthy's shtick, based on an exaggerated hillbilly accent and mannerisms, revolves around his making pointed observations followed by his standard joke line, "then you just might be a redneck." (Example: "If you have eight motor vehicles in your yard and none work...then you just might be a redneck.")

If Foxworthy were Jewish, he could do a similar shtick based on the refrain (all together now) "then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal." It would go something like this:

1. If you spend more time worrying about whales and dolphins than about Jews, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

2. If you think that the essence of Jewish ethics is supporting the political agenda of the left wing of the Democratic Party, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

3. If you think Michael Lerner and Arthur Woodstock of Tikkun magazine are really sensitive or deep thinkers, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

4. If you think the highest priority for your 'Temple' is to have a good recycling program, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

5. If you think Clinton was the most pro-Israel president ever, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

6. If you think that American pressure on Israel to make peace is necessary and valuable, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

7. If you think Jews should support affirmative action programs, even though they discriminate against Jews, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

8. If you disapprove of the Rev. Al Sharpton but think he has a good point about Jews being racists, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

9. If you oppose voucher programs for schools and school choice, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

10. If you think Anthony Lewis and Leonard Fein make a lot of good points, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

11. If you approve of the Religious Action Center of the Reform synagogue movement, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

12. If you do not understand why America still needs a strong military, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

13. If you still believe the US should have just let sanctions work in Iraq, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

14. If you still think Nelson Mandela is a hero, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

15. If there's even the slightest possibility you might vote for Jesse Jackson for any public office, you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

16. If you like to complain about how tough people have it in America, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

17. If you send your kids to a Quaker day school, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

18. If you think all that talk about political correctness suppressing free expression is a myth, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

19. If you seriously doubt that the media are dominated by liberals, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

20. If you donate to the New Israel Fund, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

21. If you think the courts and police are riddled with institutional racism, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

22. If you think Jews should practice zero-population growth because the world is so crowded, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

23. If you think the Israeli settlements are the main obstacle to peace, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

24. If you think that Oslo was basically a sound idea that was applied incorrectly, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.

25. If you think Shimon Peres is basically a decent guy with the right agenda, then you just might be an assimilated Jewish liberal.




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