Demographics, Not Democracy

Editorial Comment

Israelis protest planned judicial overhaul, in Bnei Brak, on March 23, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Despite the best efforts by the chareidi Members of Knesset to keep a low profile over the judicial reform issue, it was clear that it was all a matter of time before they would be targeted.

On Thursday night, some of the organizers of the large protest gatherings, which are funded by millions of dollars in foreign aid, made their way to Bnei Brak, the self-described city of Torah and Chassidus. The highly provocative and deeply insensitive move to bring the protests into the chareidi city was so controversial that even within the protest movement, there were dissenters.

“The protests against the chareidi residents of Bnei Brak are illegitimate and mistaken, as they pit people against each other instead of the people against the regime,” Standing Together group declared, and instead planned a march in Tel Aviv.

For the thousands of secular protesters who rejected that call, the notion of going to the heart of a chareidi community to hurl invective was too tempting to turn down. The Rabbanim of the city for their part issued directives urging the public to stay away from the area of the protests, and avoid any sort of confrontation with those who seek to incite and offend.

In sharp contrast to the way they handled demonstrations organized by chareidim in the past, the police made no effort to impede the plans of the secular protestors. Ironically, a demonstration that claimed to be about protecting Israel as democracy helped underscore how, when it comes to the chareidi-secular divide, some are far more equal than others.

Presumably, in the depth of their hearts, or at least in the back of their minds, even the protesters in Bnei Brak knew very well that this was about demographics and not about democracy. The concern they are experiencing about the exponential population growth of the chareidi community is understandable. When one adds to this angst the weighty feeling of sheer emptiness of a secular state whose only real ideology is to reject its tradition and heritage, the result is a fierce feeling of jealousy, inferiority, and rage.

However, seeking to drag the contentious protests and street battles into Bnei Brak will do nothing to further their goals or solve the real issues. Nothing will be accomplished through offensive behavior, contemptuous placards or shouting insults. B’ezras Hashem, the chareidi public, who have the identical right to live in Israel as they do, will not disappear or leave because the secular segments are anxious about their natural growth.

The only solution is to be willing to recognize what the real, issues are – and agree to sit down and talk about them.

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