Whilst the proliferation of ultra-orthodox "vigilante police" is a stain on Israeli society, their Taliban-esque actions can at least be contextualised as the inevitable consequence of religious fundamentalism gone wild. Such communities are dominated by leaders who refuse to accommodate any form of modernisation or freedom of thought into their archaic systems of governance, and the emergence of "modesty squads" is simply a manifestation of such primitive and patriarchal thinking.
Regardless of the reasons behind their appearance, the groups should not be tolerated by Israel's leaders, as they contravene the most basic human rights of the state's citizens. Israeli lawmakers have a duty to clamp down hard on the mobs' extrajudicial activities, in order to prevent a localised problem spreading from isolated religious strongholds into the rest of the country's towns and cities.
Yet the ultra-orthodox enforcers have good reason to challenge any efforts to rein in their sheriff's posses, given that the example set by several Israeli municipalities implies that what is sauce for the religious goose is sauce for the secular gander. While the local authorities in Petah Tikva, Kiryat Gat and elsewhere aren't sanctioning all-out violence against girls deemed behaving inappropriately, their modus operandi is no different in intent – and the targets of their self-righteous rage no more deserving of punishment – than the girls in Meah Shearim opting out of the ultra-restrictive dress code.
According to reports in the Israeli press:
A special team in the youth department of the Petah Tikva municipality will locate [Jewish] girls in the habit of meeting with men from minorities and will assist them … 'The problem of minority men is well-known,' said the chief of the youth department, Moshe Spektor. 'Our attempts to deal with this problem are real and sincere. The municipality is making an effort to examine the matter in co-operation with the police'.Of course, the minority in question is the Arab community – rather than any of the Jewish minorities in Israel such as those hailing from Ethiopia, Russia or South America – since it is the spectre of intermarriage between Jews and gentiles which is the cause of such abject fear among diehard Israeli nationalists, both religious and secular alike. As reported in Ha'aretz, Kiryat Gat's state-sanctioned anti-miscegenation programme's sole aim is preventing Jewish girls from becoming romantically involved with Israeli Bedouin:
The programme enjoys the support of the municipality and the police, and is headed by Kiryat Gat's welfare representative, who goes to schools to warn girls of the "exploitative Arabs". The programme uses a video entitled "Sleeping with the Enemy," which features a local police officer and a woman from the Anti-Assimilation Department, a wing of the religious organisation Yad L'ahim, which works to prevent Jewish girls from dating Muslim men.Many Jews in Israel and the diaspora frown upon the idea of their children marrying out of the flock, some even going as far as cutting their children out of their wills and mourning them as though they had died should they take a non-Jewish partner for a spouse. While this is by no means restricted to the Jewish faith, the idea of such proscriptions being incorporated at state level – whether against Jews, Muslims or any other category of "undesirables" – is racism reminiscent of the dark days of segregationist America and pre-enlightened European states.
This week, the Times carried an illustrative and disturbing feature on the Israeli phenomenon, demonstrating the unabashed bigotry of those behind the purity patrols:
[David's] group, which works with police, goes by several names, including Fire for Judaism, is composed of up to 45 men and funded by private donations. Members say they are fighting a 'growing epidemic' of Arab-Jewish dating and spend as many hours as they can on patrol.The article goes on to describe a car chase, which ensues after David spots a "problem couple" driving in a car full of Arab men. He follows them through winding mountain roads, before taking down the car's number plate and reporting the incident to police.
Similar groups have formed across the country ... In Pisgat Ze'ev, the growing number of Arab-Jewish couples is seen as the result of more Jewish settlements in Arab east Jerusalem.
'The problem is always with Jewish girls dating Arab men. The Arab guy comes and buys them things, treats them well. They fall for it. They can't see what they are doing,' says David.
That the police would even deign to co-operate with such poisonous and prejudiced characters and their fantasies of racial purity is indicative of the malaise gripping certain sectors of Israeli society, both at street and state level.
Whatever the more blinkered supporters of Israel's sectarianism say, day after day more evidence piles up attesting to the shocking reality behind Israel's mask of being a tolerant, equitable and democratic "country of all its citizens". The likes of the modesty patrols and the anti-miscegenation squads belong in the furthest recesses of history, yet apparently the Israeli authorities are not only happy to tolerate their presence, but to actively support their work as well.
Were the shoe to be on the other foot, with Jews singled out for such base racial discrimination, the same people supporting such behaviour now against Arabs would rightly be up in arms and demanding justice in the name of the persecuted. But, of course, this is Israel, and therefore somehow "different" and "unique" – the standard retorts of those unable to defend Israeli crimes with any semblance of rational debate. And while they continue banging their drums to drown out any criticism of the Israeli state, at ground level the divisive and destructive behaviour continues, and another nail is driven into the coffin of coexistence in the Holy Land. source