Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | July 12, 2007

The Messenger Strikes Back

Tuesday afternoon, my officemate mentioned that she’d just read about a minor altercation in the Knesset, where one individual had struck another one. “Interesting”, I thought. I had always wondered when our politicians would cross the line from verbal blows to physical ones, and clearly it had happened. My officemate wasn’t sure which individuals had been involved, and I really didn’t give much more thought to the matter. On Tuesday evening, as usual, I put on the news. Not really paying attention to what was being said, I looked up and saw an individual I’d worked with in the past being interviewed. Musing out loud to the Husband, I remarked, “Hey, I remember him from my time at the Justice Ministry. He was a really nice guy.” As I’d tuned in during the middle of the interview, I didn’t realize what they were talking about at that point.

Shortly thereafter, we changed channels to one of the other news shows, and there he was again. This time, though, I quickly learned why my former colleague was being interviewed on all the news shows. Apparently, he’s the one who struck another person in the Knesset. To say that I was shocked would be putting it mildly. I’d worked in the Justice Ministry approximately ten years ago, and remembered only a few faces, with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz being one of them. Amnon De Hartog was another. I vaguely remember working on different tasks for him (I was responsible for all English-language-related tasks, including translations, editing various documents and speeches, letter writing and so on), chatting with him during lunch on occasion. Amnon was one of the good guys – pleasant and interesting to talk to, and easy to work with (which was not always the case in a government office filled with lawyers – no disrespect to any lawyers who might be reading this, of course…).

It seems that Amnon and his family have been hounded by politicians from the Haredi party United Torah Judaism (UTJ) for some time now. Amnon is responsible for government grants involving the Haredi sector. He doesn’t set policy, but is responsible for carrying it out, which he does fairly and transparently. According to the law, independent school systems receive money from the budget only if they adhere to certain core curricular subjects. Apparently, the ultra-Orthodox school system was not teaching these core subjects, and as such, Amnon denied them budget funding. Needless to say, the politicians from UTJ were less than thrilled with the decision. One of them went so far as to tell Mr. De Hartog that he was “worse than the Nazis”. Under even the most optimal circumstances, invoking Godwin’s Law by telling someone that they are worse than the Nazis is hardly complementary. When a rabbi says it to another Jew, one who lost many members of his family in the Holocaust, well, one can understand why Mr. De Hartog might lose his temper. Not that I condone his use of violence, because I don’t (and I imagine the De Hartog also regrets his actions as well – indeed, he has even apologized). I can, however, understand what drove him to it.

It is telling that not only does UTJ see themselves as being above the law, but that they are also prepared to fight dirty in order to maintain their status, harassing the man and his family whenever and wherever possible, simply because he was doing his job properly. It is shocking, though not surprising, that they are willing to do whatever they deem necessary to do so, whether it be slander, defamation of character, or going so far as to call someone a Nazi, a deed that is both offensive in its own right and acts to trivialize the Holocaust. In short, scandalous. Of course, the ease with and frequency at which this term is bandied about in Israeli society, whether it be against the police, members of the military, or politicians, is nothing short of frightening, but that is the topic for another post.

I will be following the story of Amnon de Hartog very closely, and hope that his career won’t suffer too much as a result of his response to an atrocious provocation. Sadly, I fear that de Hartog will be the one to suffer here, while the politicians from United Torah Judaism (and the irony certainly isn’t lost that these individuals who purport to be the defenders of torah, Judaism, and so on can be such “bad” Jews when it comes to their dealings with those who don’t toe their line) will continue to provoke others and flout the rules, stomping on all who get in their way.

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Responses

  1. Interesting post. You’ve written quite a few recently and I am sorry that I haven’t had the time to comment on them properly – but I had noticed.

    I’m not in the least surprised. My years in Jerusalem, many working with Ultra Orthodox people and the establishment, showed me both the good side and the ugly side of their community.


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