Anger in Israel at ultra-Orthodox use of Holocaust

 

ISRAELI POLITICIANS and Holocaust survivors have expressed outrage after ultra-Orthodox protesters wore yellow stars and striped uniforms similar to those worn in Nazi concentration camps, during a rally against what they termed secular Zionist persecution.

Some 1,500 ultra-Orthodox protesters attended Saturday night’s demonstration in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood Mea Shearim. The gathering was originally planned as a show of solidarity with a local radical who yesterday began a two-year jail term for vandalising a computer store.

Televisions and computers are banned in the ultra-Orthodox community as symbols of secular hedonism. However, following the recent controversy over attempts by ultra-Orthodox extremists to ban women from the public sphere, the rally was billed as a backlash against secular attempts to “ban the ultra-Orthodox from the public sphere”.

Dozens of protesters wore yellow stars with the word Jude, German for Jew, similar to the stars Jews were forced to wear throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. Others at the rally wore the pyjama-like stripped uniforms of the concentration camps, and a little boy wearing a cloth cap put up his arms, mimicking an iconic photograph taken of a Jewish boy outside the Warsaw ghetto.

“What’s happening is exactly like what happened in Germany,” a protester wearing a yellow star told the Jerusalem Post. “It started with incitement and continued to different types of oppression. Is it insulting that we wear these stars? Absolutely, and it hurts people to see this, but this is how we feel at the moment. We feel we are being prevented from observing the Torah in the manner in which we wish.”

Israeli radio stations yesterday interviewed Holocaust survivors who expressed outrage over the protest. Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial termed the use of Nazi imagery “disgraceful”.

Minister Yossi Peled, a Holocaust survivor, said the blood froze in his veins when he saw the protesters. “Some things are inconceivable – like taking the horrifying picture of the little boy facing the Nazis with his hands up. Regardless of whether the struggle is justified or not, this points to something insane, irrational and immoral.”

Interior minister Eli Yishai, from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, also condemned the Holocaust imagery but said it came in response to “wild incitement” against all the ultra-Orthodox population. “Everyone knows it is only a small minority of ultra-Orthodox society involved. Ultra-Orthodox women and children are being abused and verbally assaulted off camera.”

The Jerusalem demonstration followed a large protest last week in the town of Beit Shemesh after a seven-year-old girl walking to school was spat on by an ultra-Orthodox man who claimed she was immodestly dressed. In another incident an ultra-Orthodox man called a woman soldier a “prostitute” after she refused to sit at the back of a bus.

President Shimon Peres said a battle for Israel’s soul was taking place.

The ultra-Orthodox, in their distinctive long black coats and hats, make up only 10 per cent of Israel’s population but wield significant political clout and have been members of almost every Israeli government coalition. A pious and insular community, they prefer to live in their own neighbourhoods, cut off from mainstream Israeli society and the temptations of the modern secular world.

Most vote and accept a generous cut of the state budget, but a minority remain fiercely anti-Zionist, believing that a Jewish state can only be established after the coming of the Messiah.

The recent attacks on women and attempts to enforce strict gender segregation were perpetrated by a minority fringe. The violence prompted an unprecedented backlash by average Israelis, worried the country was turning into a Jewish Iran.