Wednesday, July 22, 2009

15-minutes of Fame

The ultra-Orthodox riots in Jerusalem were sheer politics, according to most analysts. The Eda Haredit ultra-Orthodox group boycotted the Jerusalem elections because they were punishing the ultra-Orthodox candidate, Meir Poruch, who had upset the leader of the Gur Hassidim by voting against a bill in the Knesset the Gur wanted passed. This bill would have meant that certain monies controlled by the Knesset would have been under Gur control. Since Poruch opposed the Gur Hassidim leader, Rabbi Alter, Gur ordered their people to boycott the election for Mayor. Nir Barakat, the secular hi-tech millionaire, won the election because of this.

But Gur wasn’t done. The riots in Jerusalem are simply a way for the Eda Haredit, controlled by Gur, the largest Hassidic sect, to show the new secular mayor who really runs the city. If the excuse of the opening of a city parking lot near the Jaffa gate of the old city hadn’t come up, another one would have.

And did. The ultra-Orthodox mother from the Satmar Hassidic sect that was arrested for child abuse set off another wave of riots. This was yet another excuse for the ultra-Orthodox to show their power.

One source in the ultra-Orthodox community said the Satmar knew of the woman and her problems. But he excused the behavior of the Satmar Hassidim by saying that the Satmar were accustomed to dealing with their problems internally, quietly, not in public, certainly not in the secular press. But the excuse maker was reminded that Satmar hadn’t dealt with this issue, the woman’s child was literally starving to death, and she was suspected of abusing her other children.

This source also excused the group of Natorei Karta, a branch of Satmar, who recently met with the Iranian president Machmud Achmadnijad. In a video posted on Youtube, either by the Natorei Karta or the Iranians, the ultra-Orthodox delegation is shown in this six-minute clip, blessing the Iranian leader, giving him a large silver goblet as a gift, and calling him a hero for opposing Zionism.

The source said even the mainstream Natorei Karta had sidelined this group as crazies. And that the Satmar by and large ignored them. But not publicly. “They keep these criticisms within the community.’

To further compound the current tensions in Israel between the ultra-Orthodox population and the rest of the country a recent poll predicted that by the year 2030 the ultra-Orthodox community would make up the majority in Israel.

One pundit suggested a poster congratulating the ultra-Orthodox. The poster would read, “Mazel Tov. In 2030 you’ll be the majority! You can make all the rules. You can rule
the country as you please. But remember these two basic facts your community will now have to face. 1.) You have to pay taxes to provide your community with the government support it now lives on, and 2.) You have to join the army for who else will defend Israel against her enemies?

Clearly the Natorei Karta believe they can make peace with Israel’s enemies. Their program is to live in ‘Palestine’ as they called it in the Youtube clip, as loyal citizens. ‘We believe in being loyal citizens to whatever country we live in,’ one of the members told the Iranian president.

The members of the delegation also bemoaned the Holocaust for the loss of the great Jewish religious leaders who would have opposed the establishment of a Zionist state had they survived the Nazis. The Iranian president didn’t comment on this, as he has long held that the Holocaust never existed.

This Youtube video underlined Andy Warhol’s quip that everyone gets their fifteen minutes of fame. This group got theirs when they met with Machmud Achmadnijad. In the video the diminutive Iranian president is seen shaking the hands of each of the delegates and then hugging them. It should be remembered the Natorei Karta, also met with Yassir Arafat and other of Israel’s implacable enemies. None of these meetings play well with the mainstream Israeli public who, unlike the ‘source’ don’t understand these ultra-Orthodox men are a marginal group within the ultra-Orthodox world.

A more mainstream group in the news is the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, the OU, that has branches around the world. They even have a representative in Bangkok. “How else will you know if the food is kosher?” asked the representative, a heavy-set man in black coat, long beard, and sidecurls, who said he’d been in Thailand for over 25-years.

The Jerusalem branch offers services and programs primarily to the Orthodox American immigrants. They also supervise some aspects of the kashruth observance in Israel, although mostly that is handled by either the State or the ultra-Orthodox community. The OU in Israel also publishes a weekly pamphlet entitled “Torah Tidbits” an informative booklet with the portion of the week, analysis of various aspects of halacha, opinions and ads for the religious public.

But recently the OU published a pamphlet in Hebrew that was passed out to soldiers in the Israeli army through the Army’s chief rabbi’s department. The pamphlet purported to document how the Vatican was running tours of Auschwitz for Hezbollah fighters.

The Jerusalem Post ran the story, with a denial by the New York headquarters of OU. NYC claimed they had nothing to do with this pamphlet, that it was strictly a local Jerusalem initiative brought about by right-wing elements in the organization.

The Orthodox community in the USA and Israel are considered by analysts to be supporters of the right-wing camp, and are suspicious of, if not actually against, U.S. President Obama and his policies. Some say that Obama and the Natorei Karta have a lot in common. Both would like to see the Zionist state disappear.

Obama’s recent statements against settlements also include the dozen or so people living in caravans on“illegal outposts” that are making headlines in Israel. Most of these outposts are manned by young Israel men, mostly ‘yeshiva bochers’ (seminary students) with long side-curls, and large knit skullcaps, check shirts, jeans, t-shirts, with tzizit clearly visible. Most are single, pre-army, some of the residents are young couples with babies. To these people settling the Land of Israel is a mitzvah, the exact opposite philosophy from the Netorei Karta that met with the Iranian president.

But both groups have come up against the Israeli authorities, the Israeli police. Today a photograph appeared in the Jerusalem Post of a sign attached to a light pole with a warning to phone the posted number should anyone see the Israeli army and police coming to evacuate a hilltop settlement. The Israeli press was filled with rumors that the Ministry of Defense had issued orders that the 26 illegal hilltop settlements were going to be evacuated all at one time massive army maneuver.

The Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, was in charge of the overnight withdrawal from S. Lebanon’s security zone in 2000, a place the Israeli Army had occupied for over 20 years. That move is still being criticized in some circles, although most parents with boys serving in Lebanon were happy their sons were no longer targets of the well-trained and sophisticated Hezbollah fighters.

The mass raids on the hilltop settlements, according to the media, are planned to be a move to appease the demands by the U.S. President Barak Obama, who earnestly believes that if he can cause a freeze in settlement activity, then peace can be put forward. President Obama has also demanded a freeze to building in areas of Jerusalem that are over the green line, the border of what was Jordanian territory for 19-years, from 1948 until the 1967 Six-Day War
Israel’s Prime Mininster Benjaim ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu has said he will never stop building in Jerusalem. Some pundits say this move by President Obama is meant to get Netanyahu to compromise: if Obama lays off Jerusalem, Bibi will freeze settlements. Others think that Obama has been convinced that only force, twisting of arms, threats that monies will be withheld from Israeli coffers, will convince Israel to freeze settlement activity.

In an article that appeared in today’s Haaretz, Dan Maridor, a Minister Without Portfolio in Netanyahu’s cabinet is quoted as saying that Said Erekat, a Palestinian Authority leader who traces his service back to Yassir Arafat once said that the Palestinians always say no to a compromise because they know Israel will always come back with a better offer.

Meridor said this in reference to President Obama’s administration apparently reneging on an agreement reached between Israel and the Bush administration that allowed natural growth in the settlements in exchange for Israel agreeing to the Annapolis accords.

U.S.Special Envoy Dennis Ross is set to accompany U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchel to Israel next week to discuss the settlements. Ross, an old Mid-East hand, reportedly knows men like Erekat, and their belief that by saying no the offer will always get sweeter. And more, that no Palestinian could ever say yes and stay alive. Maybe, like the Natorei Karta, this Peace Initiative is Obama’s fifteen minutes of fame wrote big.