This newspaper is the first to attack religious fundamentalism when we see it directed against Jews and others. It is no less important to call it out when that fundamentalism emerges from our fellow Jews. It is one of Israel’s fundamental strengths — and indeed its very purpose — that it is a homeland for all Jews, of whatever denomination, as well for its non-Jewish population.
So when, a few weeks ago, the United Torah Judaism MK Israel Eichler compared Reform Jews with the mentally ill , he was not simply being repugnant in abusing the mentally ill; he was also undermining the very basis of Israeli society. But he is far from alone. In recent months, a disturbing pattern has emerged in which the Charedi have claimed both Israel and Judaism solely for themselves. This week, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said that it was “forbidden for a non-Jew to live in the Land of Israel unless he has accepted the seven Noachide laws”.
And pressure from the Charedi element within the government has led to a rethink of the plan to create a space for non-Orthodox prayer at the Kotel. Another MK was reprimanded by the Knesset’s ethics committee for demanding that the Women of the Wall group should be “thrown to the dogs”.
Of course, the Charedi have every right to voice their concerns and have them considered. But so, too, does every other strand of Judaism, a nuance that seems lost on many Charedi leaders. Too many behave as if they alone represent and define what it is to be Jewish. And with the Israeli coalition depending on their support, their demands carry huge significance and give them a power that neither their demographic nor their religious standing merit.
Israel is not and will never be a fundamentalist society. It is deeply pluralist. But the ugly behaviour of some of its Charedi leaders is doing immense damage to that idea, as well as undermining support for the Jewish state across a diaspora that rejects fundamentalism, whatever its source.