Already in much of the progressive West it is a punishable crime to defame Muslims and other minority religious groups, while Christians are openly mocked and derided without repercussion. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews see themselves in a similar situation as protectors of the national faith who are regularly maligned, while Muslims and others are largely off-limits.
With more political power now than they’ve ever held, the ultra-Orthodox intend to do something about this.
On Wednesday, lawmakers from the coalition party United Torah Judaism introduced an amendment to Israel’s Penal Code that would criminalize public incitement against the Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox population. The bill passed its first reading by a vote of 54-34.
The text of the bill states:
“We are witnessing a growing phenomenon of incitement to racism against the ultra-Orthodox population.
“In particular, there are serious cases in which incitement is carried out by elected officials with the aim of dividing the people and thereby maximizing political gain, while harming the entire public and the unity of the people.
“This harm also has other consequences, including the entrenchment of racism in society towards the ultra-Orthodox population”
The lawmakers say the amendment is necessary after the State Attorney’s Office recently ruled that mainstream media incitement against the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population does not violate the current Penal Code, which defines hate speech as being directed against particular ethnic groups.
In other words, at present it’s permissible to publicly defame ultra-Orthodox Jews, so long as the person doing so is also Jewish.
Israel’s weekly anti-government demonstrations have been shifting their focus somewhat from judicial reform to ultra-Orthodox Jews and their place in society. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critics insist he is overly beholden to the ultra-Orthodox and give them unfair preference at the expense of secular society.
But that criticism has routinely crossed the line into what could be defined as incitement, such as when television presenter Galit Gutman said on a popular morning talk show that the ultra-Orthodox Jews are “bloodsuckers” because many of them don’t serve in the IDF, work less and pay less taxes.
One of the bill’s sponsors, MK Yisrael Eichler, suggested that such rhetoric only serves to further divide Israeli society, and could eventually do irreparable damage. Already many secular Israelis refuse to acknowledge Orthodox Jews as their brothers.
“The bill is intended to put an end to the constant defamation and media incitement against the ultra-Orthodox public,” said Eichler. “According to the bill, the media will have to be careful what they say when they defame the ultra-Orthodox sector, or any other segment of society,” he added.
On the other side of the fence, though, this is precisely the kind of legislation that opposition activists will point to as “evidence” that the current right-wing religious government is flirting with fascism. To outlaw the defamation of Orthodox Jews, they say, is undemocratic, even as they oppose any kind of “hate speech” against Arab Muslims.
Sound familiar, Christians?
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