Hate Crime

letter-447577_1280

At a bus stop the other day a woman wearing a large button proclaiming “A Woman Needs a Man Like a Fish Needs Tefillin” looked me over and asked me if I thought women can be Orthodox rabbis. When I politely answered no, she proceeded to stomp on my toes with her heavy boots and then tried to asphyxiate me with her purse-strap.

Just kidding. Never happened. I’ve been on the receiving end of some sneers here and there but the attack described above didn’t take place.

What would have happened, though, had I taken my “account” to the media?

Surely I would have likely been asked if I could produce any witnesses to the alleged assault, any record of medical treatment for my injuries and trauma, any corroboration at all for my claim. And if I couldn’t, the press, understandably, would have wished me a good day and moved on.

Consider, then, what in fact transpired a few weeks ago when an Israeli woman, Noa Raz, claimed that she had been viciously attacked on a weekday morning in a public place, Beersheba’s Central Bus Station, by an Orthodox man who asked her if the marks on her arm were from leather straps of tefillin, the ritual item traditionally donned by observant Jewish men each morning. When she responded in the affirmative, she told police when she decided to file a report the next day, the man screamed “women are an abomination” and “began to kick and strangle” her.

Ms. Raz, a social activist who is a director of a group called Israel Gay Youth and a member of the feminist group Women of the Wall, may have been telling the truth. There are certainly crazies in Israel, as elsewhere, and violent acts have been perpetrated on both sides of the haredi/feminist divide.

Still, considering the dearth of any corroboration, one might be forgiven for wondering if Ms. Raz’s account is entirely factual or perhaps exaggerated, maybe even fabricated.

Not that it makes any real difference. What is outrageous here is the reportage. No responsible journalist outside the Arab world and North Korea would ever dare report an unsupported allegation as fact. Yet the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s headline read “Woman attacked for tefillin imprint.” And although a careful reading of the report eventually yielded the fact that the sole source of the story was Ms. Raz herself, not only did the headline omit that fact but the story itself opened with the words: “A Jewish woman was attacked in Beersheba…” Eventually (almost three weeks later), the news service corrected the headline and first sentence on its website, but of course by then the original version had long been published far and wide.

Over at the Forward’s website, a blog called “The Sisterhood” continues to report the allegation as fact, and includes the alleged victim’s urging of Jews to “keep supporting… the Conservative movement and the Reform movement, all the hard work we do to try to create a better society [in Israel].”

Whether that hard work includes making less than truthful claims is nothing anyone but Ms. Raz can really know. But, again, the veracity of the story, while an intriguing question, is not the main one. That would be the Jewish media’s attitude toward haredim.

The JTA story in its original form and Reform movement press releases reporting Ms. Raz’s claim as fact were reproduced as news stories in scores of Jewish newspapers and on countless websites and blogs, with predictable results. One social activist’s unsupported claim, in other words, was nonchalantly presented as truth to countless readers, fanning the flames of hatred for haredim far and wide.

Leave aside that the claimant has a record of pre-existing animus for Orthodox Jews and in her account referred to her alleged attacker as a “black” – a pejorative for haredim. Leave aside her assertion that as he moved in close she could “smell him.” Note only the aroma of the reportage itself. Were a Journalism 101 student to present a less than disinterested individual’s claim as fact, a failing grade would quickly follow. Precisely the grade deserved by many Jewish media here.

Their greatest sin, though, is not abject journalism; it’s assuming the worst about other Jews and fomenting hatred for them. “The disrespect shown by the haredim to women… is intolerable,” pronounced an ARZA press release, reproduced in temple newsletters nationwide. “We must… insist that the Government of Israel not be held hostage by those who claim to be the only ‘legitimate Jews’…”

And a Conservative rabbi, Gerald Skolnik, writing in the New York Jewish Week about how Ms. Raz “was physically assaulted” (“This really happened” he sagely adds), characterizes haredim as “feeling that violence against Jews who are different from them is… warranted.” The spiritual leader goes on to juxtapose a comment allegedly made by an unnamed haredi Jew to words of Adolf Hitler.

Recent days have shown us how malignant the world media can be when their biases show. But our own Jewish media, too, harbor ugly prejudices of their own.

Whether or not some unbalanced haredi in Beersheba is guilty of a hate crime remains an open question. But that the crime of spreading hatred was recently committed in the Jewish world seems painfully clear.

© 2010 AM ECHAD RESOURCES

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]


All Am Echad Resources essays are offered without charge for personal use,
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8 Responses

  1. Sam says:

    Dov,

    Three points:

    1) There is always room for cheshbon hanefesh, but you can’t lay the problem that there are bad people among haredim (as among every group) at the feet of haredim as a group. If the normal behavior of most haredim was like the examples you bring, I could hear you. But it isn’t, you surely know.

    2) Your list of terrible things is exaggerated to a big degree, not only in the numbers you bring and the descriptions you write but in the time span in which the things happened. If you can list the exact cases you mean and their dates, I’ll stand corrected. And as far as violence in the black community is concerned, I hope you don’t really think that the statistics of per capita criminal activity among haredim is anywhere near the percentage among American blacks. Are most of those imprisoned in Israel haredim?

    3) Rabbi Shafran was not addressing the bad guys within the haredim community. He was accusing the Jewish media of reporting a claim as a fact. If you were a little old white lady and told a reporter you were mugged by a big black man (and you have no bruises or evidence or witnesses), do you really think the reporter and his editors would write the story as fact (or at all)?

  2. Dov says:

    While I do think that the press is biased, there’s no denying that the large amount of recent chareidi violence has established something of a “chazaka” for violent acts by chareidim.

    To re-phrase your question: How many people would believe that a black man in Harlem would beat up a little old white lady? How many would believe that a little old white lady would beat up a big black man? Unfortunately the past 2-3 years have created a context in Israel where the chareidim are the black men, not just the men in black.

    In the past few weeks alone we’ve had chareidim setting forest fires near Beit Shemesh to protest moving graves in Ashkelon. We’ve had multiple acts of violence against religious girls and women who at the very most weren’t wearing long enough socks. We’ve had violent demonstrations against a factory opening on Shabbos. We’ve had 4-5 acts of child abuse that are horrible beyond belief, all by men with payos or women in tichels. We’ve had police attacked violently for even suggesting that a child that dies without reason should be checked to see why he died. And all this is only in the past few weeks!

    Yes, I can and have argued that these are the acts of a tiny minority. But the sheer number of acts of violence by chareidi individuals has created a chazaka that’s as strong as a black man in Harlem.

    Others can say and have said that the frum world needs a cheshbon ha’nefesh about why so many acts of violence have occurred. My point here is simply that we need to understand that such actions have a clear and in fact logical effect on how people see chareidim. This is in fact the definition of chilul Hashem.

    When I was living in the States and working among non-frum people, I had the feeling that while they may have thought I was crazy, they did presume that someone religious was in some sense a moral person. Here in Israel, working among chilonim, there is no such presumption. I am happy to face the challenge of showing them that a visibly frum person with kipa and tzitzis can be a moral and respectable person. But this shouldn’t even be a challenge. Chaval.

  3. Albert says:

    Yossi:

    But that is the issue here, the one Rabbi Shafran addressed. You changed it to another issue, whether charedi media defends the indefensible. If you can cite cases where charedi papers defended Neturei Karta or rioting by hoodlums in Meah Shearim or the Munchausen mother (other than to say that conclusions should not be reached prematurely) or Chen, please do so. If not, then please realize that you are also unfairly painting others — the charedi media.

    There is a lot of self-criticism in the charedi world, including on Cross-Currents, but there are times for breast-beating and rejection of criminals, and times for standing up and calling lies lies, and calling prejudiced journalists prejudiced journalists. The spreading of Noa Raz’s story by the Jewish media needs to be condemned. And so far, I see only this article doing it.

  4. Yossi Ginzberg says:

    Albert:

    I do think that we must stand up for our rights. The very existence of Agudath Israel & many other organizations is to serve this function, to represent us to the government and to the public and to protect our rights.

    But that’s not the issue here. The issue at hand is that with so many misleading and defensive articles appearing in most Charedi media, we as a group have become aggresively defensive, and that leads to a refusal to realize that we have amongst us criminals. Not admitting it leads to refusal to condemn them, and that leads to breeding more- as Pirkei Avos says, if not for the fear of the governement men would swallow each other alive.

    If we admit crime and cast out our own miscreants, we’d have a lot more credibility when we claim mistreatment. Look at the Meah Shearim-niks. because they defended, without investigation, the Munchhausens’ mother and the shaken-child father, no one intelligent will accept their word anymore for defending anyone. Their current defense of Chen is being laughed at instead of being taken seriously, undermined without the facts being known because of the previous actons.

    Look at the comments at YWN or VIN to see the automatic knee-jerk reactions that damage the credibility and image of our people. If we’d learn more mussar and introspection, we’d do a lot better as a people.

    I don’t say never to defend, not at all. I do say that being heard only in defense damages credibility.

  5. Albert says:

    Yossi:

    When antisemites make up stories about Jews, do you think we should just say well there are in fact bad Jews out there, and so what we ourselves need to do is condemn them more? Or do you think that, even if there are Jews who behave badly, it is our responsibility to counter lies intended to fan hatred of Jews?

    I think most charedim very clearly condemn Neturei Karta and criminal activity. But should we not speak up when someone, like Rubashkin, has been treated differently than other, more harshly? And should we not be screaming and yelling about newspapers reporting things about us that aren’t true?

  6. Bob Miller says:

    How do we deal with a world that rejects truth when it conflicts with bias? This is a good time to review the historical Jewish experience with this phenomenon.

  7. Yossi Ginzberg says:

    I agree with you, the story is almost certainly untrue.

    But honestly, you do Klal Yisroel a great disservice when you mock the report and ignore the fact that there is a REASON that people are so ready to believe even the craziest stories about Charedi behavior: Too many of the “unbelievable” stories were true!

    Between the too-frequent appearance of “Rabbis” being led away in handcuffs on the news, the “talking fish”-type of story, the Jerusalem riots, the abuse scandals, the Neturei Karta public behaviors, and too many other unfavorable public debacles the atmosphere has become one that is ready to accept any craziness. And the blame for that rests only with the criminals AND THOSE THAT DEFEND THEM, making it less likely that others will learn and desist from that behavior.

    A statement decrying the abuses and the chilul Hashems that resulted in this fallen opinion of Jews would do far more to serve the public long-term than mocking this silly story.

  8. Contarian says:

    The Israeli and MSM Jewish American Press act in the exact same way in re: Charedim as the World press reacts to Isreal.

    The rush to judgement by the MSM was no different in the Noa Raz case as it was in the Freedom Floatila case.

    In the Jewsih world the charedim are immediately guilty without any investigation on their idelogical opponents say so. In the wider World, Isreal is similarily evil on its enemyies say so.

    I was one of the commenters on the Forward’s sisterhood blog claiming that as Noa Raz was a professional liberal Jew she has a credibility problem for just this reason. I brought up the 1997 l’affaire feces in which Rabbi Shafran in a column pouinted out that years later there was a consensus among Jewish journalists that it never occurred.

    Am Echad was founded at that time to counter the lack of instantaneous Haredi Hasbara. I suggest that you reinvigorate its mission.