El repetidísimo y preocupante caso de "Rosa Parkski" (en inglés)



Por Jack Goldstein, April 2013

Reminding us of the legendary case of Rosa Parks, something similar just happened again in Israel: A haredi rabbi offends a woman sitting in what he considers to be the wrong bus and prevents the driver from moving on until she accommodates herself in a back bench. Passengers who in prior cases had not reacted properly, this time show courage and tempers flare. Half an hour later, and with police intervention, the lady reaches her destination, in the same bus and in the same bench where she first sat. A victory for democratic pluralism in a civil state, but a new warning concerning religious intolerance gaining momentum.


I fear that in a democratic forum, power will be given eventually to some who have done little, if nothing at all, to build and protect the State. I am willing to support the right of every haredi to live as he so chooses, but not at the expense of my right to live as I want within the framework of the law.

She needed to travel from Ashdod to Jerusalem and Egged Route #451 was what she needed to take. When the driver picked her up, he looked at her in astonishment and told her that the route was only used by haredim. She understood the message but pointed out that she had no other option because she was in a hurry. It is not the case that the bus was exclusively for haredím, or that the bus was making a direct route between one haredi neighborhood in Ashdod to another one in Jerusalem. No, #451 bus makes several stops and it is public. What happens is that, as it is also the ideal route for the ultra-Orthodox, the haredim have taken unofficial possession of the route and have intimidated the secular population in general, and the female population in particular, through “bullying”.


Some 60 years ago, Ben Gurion gave a reduced quota of haredim the benefit of skipping military service and living in subsidized housing as retribution for the support of the religious segment to the national unity government. Over time, this group of hundreds got adjusted by means of inflation, demography, and a lot of politics, to 20,000 people, officially. However, any haredi who so desires, regardless of quotas, can abstain himself from serving in the army while devoting himself to study Torah without working, yet keeping his right to rant against the State.


It might be laudable that as a people we have developed a refined sense of specialization of work and that we have achieved a supreme degree of nobleness and tolerance. I am not Israeli, and as such, I don’t pay taxes there nor serve in the army, but it would be obvious to me to think that I would feel an enormous injustice if I had to commit sweat, blood and parnassa while others offer their quota of study and obedience to mitzvot. It is also unfair that some people are concerned with how to raise even only one child while others charge the State per capita for the upbringing of their kids and make their own reproduction a factor of income.


I fear that in a democratic forum, power will be given eventually to some who have done little, if nothing at all, to build and protect the State. I am willing to support the right of every haredi to live as he so chooses, but not at the expense of my right to live as I want within the framework of the law.


One thing is keeping Tzniut or shabbat in Mea Shearim. That has my vote. But another thing is to act as a bully in a public bus, covering a public route with multiple stops within a sovereign and pluralist state, where everyone pays evenly for the ticket, regardless of gender or religious affiliation. It seems to me fabulous that if the haredim want to travel according to their principles, that they set up their own private transportation company and rule it inwhichever way they wish. If their hours of study and their work aversion prevents them from organizing such a company, then perhaps Egged should design a system where there is a basic fare for people without issues; a Premium fare for those (haredim) who only want to sit among peers in the back of the bus, separated from the rest by a mechitzah; and a Preferential fare -with reduced pricing- for women, who would sit at the front of the bus.


Israel is no longer the small and nascent country that it once was 60 years ago. The demographic trends of the haredi and non-Jewish groups invite us to reflect on the style of country that we want to have, the nature of its democracy and the power of religion in any of its forms. It is necessary to reevaluate the preferences enjoyed by the haredim and contemplate the increasing risks of the emergence of a theocracy of obvious anti-democratic nature. We must consider if these risks should lead Israel to finally establish a Constitution which would frame certain basic principles of coexistence and national identity.


It is still refreshing to know that certain religious leaders can distinguish between issues of private and public domain within a democratic state. While I was inspiring myself to write these lines (and while others where already criticizing me on facebook for mentioning this case), Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger indirectly stood up in support of the lady giving clear support to the “res publica”. In his words, “The State does not belong to the haredim, and the ultra-Orthodox have no right to segregate in buses. If we want to segregate it would be legitimate for us to establish a private transport service.” Coexistence should not be threatened by intolerant factions. Hence, institutions and their leaders should manifest themselves in accordance in order to avoid the legitimization of anti-democratic attitudes.



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