My recent flight to Israel from New York was something I was not looking forward to. I used to love flying, but now the first thing I ask myself when I’m invited to speak somewhere, is simply, “How long will the flight be?”
That’s the reason I have turned down several requests to speak in Australia. 23 hours on a plane AND a stopover??? A trip to a dentist who has run out of anesthetic seems preferable.
As we left JFK at 11:50 p.m., the tedium of the ten-hour journey was ameliorated by sleeping through the night, if you are a contortionist or a leprechaun and can squeeze into the “Comfort Plus” seat that is.
During the remainder of the time, I busied myself writing my last column for The Jewish Press.
A man sitting beside me (well, given the design of the seats, sitting on top of me would be more accurate) suddenly asked if I was a writer. I admitted the charge and so began a conversation.
Avi is an Israeli of around forty. He said he was in “Tech” and I was able to glean that he was really quite big in his field (well obviously not too big or he could have afforded a better seat).
After a while, he steered the conversation toward the current political situation in Israel. I was very happy for him to do so as I am always keen to hear all sides in any debate. It was a revelation to discover exactly how deeply and sincerely was the concerns and positions he felt.
Avi, although not religious, originally came from a Mizrachi family and naturally (kol ha kovod lo) served in the army. He told me that the soldiers from that section of Israeli society made the best soldiers by far.
“They have all become right-wing fanatics, extremists, the worst people.”
The entire judicial reform process is only a ruse to keep Bibi in power…and… to stop him being sent to jail.
There was a lot more of that kind of stuff. I authentically played the role of the “Chutzie” and gently asked him if he did not feel any sympathy for international critics who pointed to the Supreme Court’s partiality and liberal activism?
Avi assured me that was simply “right-wing propaganda.”
I was particularly amazed when he said that the majority of Justices were right-wing and religious. When he explained that the current government is, “The most extreme anyone could imagine.” I nearly asked him if he didn’t see the previous one, which included Islamist Arab Israeli MKs, equally worthy of that description? I decided not to.
I like the adage that “The point of a debate is not to win, but for you both to approximate a better truth.” I also like the idea of making your opponent your partner in finding a solution. If either you or your interlocutor are not committed to those two ideas, there is little point in debating at all.
Then Avi moved on to what he announced, “Might be a sensitive subject, the Hareidim.”
Here his analysis of that “problem” was surprisingly free of the passion and indignation of before. He considered that enormous section of Israeli society to be simply not contributing enough, while it was taking too much.
He evinced four examples from the familiar list, non-service in the army, lack of wealth-generation and the consequential requirement for support from secular Israeli wage earners. Avi also pointed to a lack of teaching of basic educational skills like math and language. The last on his list was Hareidi disdain for their secular fellow Israelis and labeling them as “Non-Jews.”
There was a remarkable lack of anger and hatred in his analysis and in the short time remaining before we landed in Tel Aviv, we clearly achieved a “partnership in finding solutions.”
That lack of hatred is too often absent from many of those who share Avi’s world view.
A few hours afterwards, a video circulated on social media of three Lubavitch boys in Tel Aviv as they walked along a street. A secular Israeli violently attacked one, slamming him to the ground while hurling abuse.
Then there is the case of Neria Kraus, anchorwoman and U.S. correspondent for News13, Israel’s most extreme left-wing channel.
She screamed “Hareidi harassment” on a United Airlines flight when she was asked to swap seats with a passenger. Her behavior did not impress the Israeli woman flight attendant who blamed her for potentially causing the flight to be cancelled.
She turned this into a “big deal” and Tweeted about the ordeal she has suffered “because I am a woman.”
Then a totally different account emerged from witnesses. A Hareidi father (clean shaven, no long peyot) asked if she would move one seat, so his son and his friend could sit together. Ms. Kraus was happy to oblige until the father removed his baseball cap to reveal a yarmulke. Cue screaming and drama.
Ms. Kraus doesn’t sound like the sort of person who would be too interested in partnership and finding solutions.
Speaking with and listening to the “other side” only starts when you accept that they are people who are just as entitled to have a different view as you are.
If though, you see them as “other” with no valid claim to a point of view, dialogue and solution-finding becomes impossible.
I agree with my new friend Avi that calling Secular Jews, “Non-Jews” is wrong (and a contravention of Torah by the way).
I think I know what he would answer if I asked what he felt about Hareidim being referred to by the Israeli Left’s heroes as…
“Blood suckers… snakes, suckling from the same urges that the Nazi horror suckled from,” Shulamit Aloni.
“A terrible evil…a Black Genie,” Prof Namoi Hazan.
“An armed group of gangsters, criminals against humanity, sadists, pogromists and murderers,” Amos Oz.
Jews, all of us, will only find solutions and unity, when we see other Jews as Jews… just like us.