To return to the new Peace Now website click here.

They are not "anarchists" by Yariv Oppenheimer

The State of the Anarchists 

By Yariv Oppenheimer

Maariv, 28 December, 2011

(Tanslation courtesy of Israel News Today)

In the past weeks, when the "price tag" riots peaked, right wing MKs hurried to disassociate themselves from the extremist minority and to protest against the generalizations aimed at the settler public, most of which is law-abiding. In his public response to the incidents in the Ephraim Brigade, the prime minister called the rioters "anarchists," an extremist handful that does not represent the general population in the territories.

The solutions proposed by Binyamin Netanyahu and his fellow ministers also focused on police enforcement and taking a strong hand against the handful of anarchists. No one stopped to ask why thousands of young people in the settlements had come to cast off the democratic rules of the game, to blindly follow extremist rabbis and to view the rule of law as merely a recommendation. 

Instead of addressing the roots of the problem, the prime minister dumped the handling of the issue once again on Police Commissioner Insp. Gen. Yohanan Danino and the police officers of the Samaria and Judea District Police. Several days later, wonder of wonders--riots, violence and the trampling of democratic values appeared again, this time in the clash over the State of Israel's religious character.

What began as the opposition of religious soldiers from the religious Zionist movement to listen to women's singing developed into a heated, incisive public discussion about discrimination against women, violence against women and religious extremism in the public space. MK Tzippi Hotovely, who just a few days ago introduced a bill that would enable soldiers to leave the room when a woman is singing, also objected to the latest phenomena and referred to the rioters as "anarchists"; the prime minister, for his part, recreated his response to the price tag incidents and requested again that Police Commissioner Danino handle the problem.

How easy it is to renounce responsibility and assign the task of handing the extremism to the police. How convenient it is for MK Hotovely to legislate a bill regulating discrimination against women, and the next day to come out against violence and call the rioters "anarchists" without seeing the simple context of cause and effect.

The attempt of the right wing leadership to diminish the two phenomena and call the rioters "anarchists" is also the attempt to shrug off responsibility and to refrain from serious treatment of the issue. The right wing rioters draw their inspiration from the cabinet ministers, who stand at attention before the Settlers Council and for fear of the Likud primary lend a hand to legitimizing settlement outposts and to the theft of land under the auspices of the state. The rioters in the religious and Haredi public draw their inspiration from bills such as MK Hotovely's bill and from mayors who regulate the effective exclusion of women and discrimination against women, all under the watchful eyes of the cabinet ministers. In both cases from the past few weeks in which the quietly growing extremism has been exposed to the public, condemnations and declarations will not suffice, and assigning the title "anarchists" will also not help. 

The battle against extremism can only be won with genuine leadership that will know how to hold its own against the representatives of the settlers and the Haredim even when confronting them is difficult, inconvenient, and mainly liable to exact a political price. Whoever fails to evacuate settlement outposts and show that the rule of law is a basic value in democracy, is thereby giving backing to the hilltop youth and right wing rioters. 

Whoever fails to act against mayors, rabbis and political activists who support a change in the [religious] status quo, will not be able to deal with religious extremism and phenomena of women's exclusion. In the battle over the identity of Israeli society there are no winks, and there is no having it both ways. The State of Israel is changing before our eyes dramatically, and the prime minister must decide whether he wants to stop the deterioration or remain a partner to it.
The author is secretary general of Peace Now