While anti-Semitism is on the rise the world over, its ugliest manifestation may be taking place in Israel itself, where Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, is using a venomous anti-religious election campaign to convince the non-Jewish, Russian-olim community to vote for his party.
Reporting for the Makor Rishon newspaper, Yishai Friedman wrote an expose two weeks ago detailing Lieberman’s Russian-language campaign, which portrays the charedi community as freeloaders and parasites draining the coffers of the government. Charedi Jews are pictured dancing in the street with outstretched hands while dollar bills float down from heaven.
Especially troubling are the comments that Yisrael Beiteinu allows on its Russian website. For example:
- “The time has come to take our pitchforks and go out to the streets”
- “We have to stop giving the wages of our labor to thieves and parasites in black jackets and smelly hats”
- “The religious are not descended from the apes, but from moldy fungi”
- “We have to destroy entire neighborhoods, starting with Bnei Brak and Kfar Chabad. I wish I could reach Hamas to show them how to direct their rockets”
- “Hitler was right to destroy Jews”
The beating of an elderly man last Shabbat in Haifa may be the outcome of this inflammatory campaign. Nitzan Keidar of Israel National News reported that 73-year-old Eliahu Shapiro was attacked by three muggers on his way home from shul. His son relates:
“My father told us that three young Russian-speaking thugs, one of them a skinhead, demanded cigarettes and money. My father tried to explain that it was the Sabbath. When they understood that he was religious, they beat him brutally.”
Former Prisoner of Zion Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich told The Jewish Press, “If this type of blatant anti-Semitism were openly voiced anywhere else in the Western world, it would be met with widespread outcry and opposition. Unfortunately, in Israel, where the media is predominantly anti-charedi, only the religious protest.”
Two weeks ago, news outlets revealed that Haifa deputy mayor Lazar Kaploun, a member of Yisrael Beiteinu, wrote two months ago that religious people are “gluttons and drunkards” who “rape minors.” Several religious organizations sent letters to the Attorney General demanding Kaploun’s dismissal for “spreading anti-Semitic writings.” Kaploun later apologized for his remarks, but Yisrael Beiteinu radio broadcasts don’t show signs of ceasing the campaign of hate, even accusing the charedi community of pedophilia.
In an op-ed published last week, Rochel Sylvetsky, a senior editor of Israel National News, and former chairperson of Israel Emunah – noted for its work with immigrant absorption – warned against the national division that the Lieberman campaign is dangerously fueling.
She told The Jewish Press, “The media, along with Reform and leftist groups, blame the Israel Rabbinate for imposing stringent conversion requirements on the waves of non-Jewish olim from Russia – but that isn’t the real truth. From my experience working with young Russian olim, the fact is that they don’t want to convert. Why should they? They already enjoy full privileges as Israeli citizens under Israel’s 1970 Law of Return which allowed grandchildren and children of Jewish grandfathers and fathers to become automatic citizens, even if their spouses weren’t Jewish.
“These people were raised with no connection to Judaism whatsoever, and were exposed to all the anti-religious and anti-Jewish propaganda prevalent in the Soviet Union at the time. You don’t have to work hard to convince them that the religious are ‘the enemy of the people,’ and the enemy of personal freedoms.
“Lieberman is targeting this very secular Russian community with his volatile anti-charedi, and anti-Religious Zionist campaign, in order to strengthen his power base.”