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Who Gains From Social Division

Follow the money is the first advice given to budding investigative reporters. When it comes to social conflict in Israel, the guiding advice might be modified to: Figure out whose interests are served if you want to understand what is happening.

Israel has the most mobilized media in the democratic world. In no other country do journalists see their proper role as shaping the national agenda to quite the same degree. As a consequence, the Israeli media is also the most easily manipulated.

The European Union and individual European nations pour millions into Israeli NGOs each year in order to move Israeli public opinion towards their favorite nostrums for peace. But if they did not get a big bang for their bucks, they would not continue investing so heavily. Many of the European-backed NGOs blacken Israel’s image abroad to convince Israelis of their country’s growing international isolation and make them more malleable. The New York Times and European outlets have an insatiable thirst for news of the Talibanization of Israel and the “seismic rift in Israeli society over the role of women.”

The Four Mothers Movement, last summer’s social justice protests, and the recent frenzy over hadarat nashim – the so-called exclusion of women from the public sphere – are all examples of the media and left-wing NGOs, most of them beneficiaries of funding from the New Israel Fund, working together to drive the national agenda.

 

Take one example of how the manipulation works: the Channel Two video of Naama Margolese. How many Israelis, for instance, realize that the spitting that aroused such a storm took place months ago at the beginning of the school year and not recently? Dr. Haggai Agmon-Snir, the director of the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, who has vast experience working with the various cultures of Yerushalayim, gave an interview to Mishpacha Magazine two weeks ago, in which he described efforts at working out a modus vivendi in Beit Shemesh.

 

Dr. Agmn-Snir rightly characterized the spitting at Naama as “intolerable.” He noted, however, that the so-called Sikrikim, who were responsible for the incidents, have been expelled even by the Eidah Hachareidis, and that they constitute a “minority within a minority” of the chareidi community. But the most important part of the interview was Dr. Snir’s report of success in working out informal agreements between the various parties to the Beit Orot dispute. According to him, representatives of the Eidah Hachareidis were reconciled to the fact that Beit Orot girls school will remain in its current location. Over the last two months, the Sikrikim have largely disappeared from the site of the school and there have been only two incidents.

 

Dr. Agmon- Snir lamented that the broadcast that stirred such fury among the secular population was very dated, and expressed his fear that the delicate fabric of understanding worked out during the months following the threats against Beit Orot and its students at the beginning of the school year had been destroyed by the Channel Two broadcast and the subsequent anti-chareidi demonstration in Beit Shemesh by a self-styled group of “Israelis rising up to defend little Naama.” One chareidi activist involved in the negotiations told Mishpacha that when he turned to Channel Two to ask them to report on the compromises that had been formulated, he was told, “Get lost. Don’t interfere with the party.”

 

The immediate beneficiary from the belated airing of the outdated Channel Two documentary was Yair Lapid, who introduced the broadcast. He implied that what happened to Naama Margolese represents the future of all Israelis if the chareidim are not brought to heel. Shortly after the broadcast, Lapid announced that he would follow in his father’s footsteps into politics; he no doubt expects to inherit his mantle as leader of the anti-chareidi forces.

 

While the timing of the Channel Two documentary distorted the picture presented to viewers, the events themselves were real enough. Many of the others that have so riled the public against chareidim in recent weeks, however, were staged for the media. Tanya Rosenblitt, an activist with One Voice, a NIF-funded organization, boarded a mehadrin bus in an exclusively chareidi neighborhood of Ashdod bound for chareidi neighborhoods in Yerushalayim. Egged has created a number of such lines catering to chareidi-only passengers precisely to prevent private chareidi companies from forming.

 

Had her desire been to reach Yerushalayim as expeditiously as possible, Rosenblitt could have found several other lines leaving a nearby station following a less circuitous route with many fewer stops. Rather, her desire was to prevent the chareidi passengers on the bus from seating themselves as they wished and to spark a confrontation. The mainstream media naturally interviewed only Rosenblitt.

 

But according to the other passengers on the bus, the bus driver summoned police to deal with Rosenblitt, who was doing everything she could to incite her fellow passengers – singing, making loud challenging comments, and leaning into the aisle. When the police arrived, they asked her to move to the back of the bus or at least sit quietly. Similarly, the female soldier who was insulted on a mehadrin bus from Yerushalayim’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood announced on her Facebook page her intention to create a provocation, and posted a Maariv article about another woman who had done so in the most vulgar manner imaginable.

 

The point of mentioning these instances of provocation is not to defend every response. Just because one is provoked does not mean one must take the bait. But it is to suggest that there is an agenda behind the stirring up of social tension. The chareidi community is one target. But so is Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu.

 

Alon Liel, one of the heads of One Israel, for which Talia Rosenblitt works, and husband of NIF director Rachel Liel, proudly announced a September 2011 Campaign, which would, in the words of the ad agency hired, “reach every government minister and everyone who supports this government. We’ll recruit the media, and eventually we’ll reach our goal.” The Palestinian media reported the One Voice campaign as designed to create an international consensus on the concept of Israeli apartheid. These negative campaigns feed on each other. If Israel rivals Iran in the treatment of women, it becomes easier to believe in Israeli apartheid and vice versa.

 

THE SOCIAL TENSIONS BEING STIRRED BY THE MEDIA are taking a heavy toll on Israeli society. Even Israel’s ability to defend itself is being sapped by ideologically driven campaigns. Ever since four national religious soldiers in an officers training course refused orders to listen to a performance of women singing, one would think that the greatest threat with which the IDF has to deal is today is making sure that women soldiers not feel dissed. This at a time when five women just received their pilots’ wings.

 

The chief of the IDF’s manpower division, Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, went so far as to overrule the conclusions of a committee she had herself appointed and insisted that officers retain discretion to order soldiers to be present even during women’s singing performances that are for purely entertainment purposes. Forcing religious soldiers to bow to the diktat of the IDF and refusing to accommodate their religious beliefs in any way will only distance the national religious community from the IDF and deprive the latter of some of its best soldiers and officers. Is compelling attendance to hear women sing really worth the price?

 

Meanwhile, the IDF chief of staff ordered the IDF chief rabbi to convene all military chaplains and inform them of their duty to ensure that the issue of “the exclusion of women” not enter the IDF. In doing so, he effectively turned every IDF rabbi into a “rav mitaam” and ensured that they will never command respect from most religious soldiers.

 

For a while, it appeared that the IDF was taking a particularly harsh and unaccommodating stand with national religious soldiers, because it fears a day when the national religious community will dominate the upper echelons of the IDF. At the same time, many believed that inducing chareidim to join the IDF is such a high priority that the IDF would do everything possible to accommodate their religious needs in such programs as Shachar Kachol (a program almost exclusively for married avreichim).

 

But last week, the chief rabbi of the air force resigned on the grounds that the IDF had reneged on previous agreements to accommodate the religious needs of chareidi soldiers and to guarantee them a single-gender environment. Even the important (secular) societal goal of integrating chareidim into the IDF must be swept aside in the face of the crucial societal goal of making sure that there is no place in the IDF a woman can’t go.

 

The uproar last week over the Puah Institute’s annual conference on halacha and medicine is another example of a feminist agenda being pushed over every other societal goal, even the health of women. Kolech and Am Hofshi, two more NIF-funded organizations, led an intensive campaign to force all doctors scheduled to speak at the conference to withdraw, unless some women doctors were invited to speak. All but two of the doctors scheduled to speak bowed to the pressure and cancelled, and the Israel Medical Association came out against doctors appearing at conferences where there are no women speakers.

 

Would the gain of one or two women speakers at the conference really have been such a triumph to justify the harm to women’s health that could have resulted from the cancellation of the conference?

 

The heads of the Puah Institute are mostly affiliated with the national religious movement. It is almost certain that they would have had no problem with women speaking to a mixed gathering. But prior to the first Puah Conference 12 years ago, the organization’s posek, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu zt”l, ruled that there should be no women speakers in order to ensure the widest possible rabbinical attendance, and thus the widest dissemination of the information that would come out of the conference.

 

The purpose of the conference is to provide rabbonim with information about the most recent medical advances and knowledge that might be relevant to their p’sak halacha. The exchanges between doctors and rabbonim help to sensitize both to the needs of the infertile couples Puah counsels and also makes the doctors aware of the concerns and halachic imperatives of the religious community. Many of the topics scheduled to be covered in this year’s conference – e.g., new treatments for varicose veins, post-partum depression, preparation for the birth of a handicapped child – were of great practical interest to the hundreds of women who attend.

 

In the name of feminism, Kolech and Am Hofshi were prepared to shut down the Puah Conference and destroy the Puah Institute, which has developed the protocols for ensuring the integrity of the process that is used in every hospital or clinic in Israel and in over fifty clinics in North America. That says a great deal about the priorities of contemporary Israeli feminism. And they were portrayed as heroes bravely struggling against the greatest menace facing Israel – the exclusion of women from the public sphere – for doing so. (The Puah Institute works with numerous women doctors and many speak at other Puah events during the year, just not at the conference originally intended primarily for rabbonim.)

 

Fortunately, the boycott of the Puah Conference was not successful. Other doctors replaced those who had withdrawn, and attendance was close to the 1,500 of past conferences. But in one sense the opponents did succeed. They managed, together with the media, to keep the hysteria about the “exclusion of women” going for yet another week.