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January 1, 2012 12:48 pm

Beit Shemesh & The International Media

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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Photo: Fadil Emansour.

Following a number of awful incidents carried out by ultra-Orthodox extremists, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the only democracy in the Middle East, opened a cabinet meeting by saying: “Israel is a Western liberal democracy, and as such its public space is open and safe for all, men and women. There is no place in [Israel] for discrimination. The police will continue to arrest all those who spit, raise their hands, and harass.” Similarly, on Israel Army Radio, Chief Military Rabbi Brigadier-General Rafi Peretz said, “The spirit of Jewish law does not allow discrimination or violation of women in any circumstance and on any grounds.”

It’s been made quite clear by the political and religious leadership of Israel that nearly all Jewish people stand against this tiny handful of sick individuals. Even within the ultra-Orthodox community, the perpetrators are shunned and reviled. From the sickening activities of a handful of ultra-Orthodox extremists in Beit Shemesh to screaming “Nazis” and “whores” at Jewish women walking, boarding buses and anywhere else – its simply awful, repulsive behavior.

Owning a crisis PR firm, I am upset at the news coverage surrounding these so-called “religious” disputes. The media targets Israel in a critical manner on these issues, just as it covers alleged Israeli human rights violations against the Arabs and these very limited actions of extremists. At the same time, it neglects to cover the constant violations and day-to-day treatment women face  in almost every Arab country. Is Israel’s blessing as the sole democracy in the Middle East a reason for this warped media coverage? Or is it a continued double standard and anti-Semitic approach to the Jewish people and state of Israel?

Let’s take a look at some of the headlines: “Religious limits on women roil Israel“ (Washington Post), “Taking stand for Jewish women took far too long“ (USA TODAY), and “Extremist Jews prevent women from voting in Israel” (Associated Press).  None of these headlines are remotely accurate. Israel is incensed at the actions of a handful of crazies; nearly the whole country is standing up for the women, and it’s doubtful that even one woman was prevented from voting. Furthermore, the media fails to mention that the incident occurred just moments after the mayor of Jerusalem spoke out against gender discrimination.

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One would agree that the religious conflict in Israel merits media coverage – but surely not the mountains of press coverage versus the lack of media on similar issues amidst our Arab brethren bordering Israel. The fundamental difference between the conflicts is immense: in Israel, it’s “extremists” against the government; in Arab countries, it’s the policy and the law against the women.

Why does the media neglect to cover the tribulations of Saudi women who are required to have a guardian and need that guardian’s permission to make any decisions in their own lives? These include:  marriage and divorce, travel on their own under the age of 45, education, even opening a bank account. No women are permitted to drive or to vote. I haven’t seen an AP headline that focused on the fact that Saudi women can’t vote, but I did see an AP headline on Israel and women voters. Even the recent protests by hundreds of women in Egypt – in which 13 people were killed and Egyptian soldiers beat and stripped women protesters — didn’t receive the same amount of media coverage as Israel has. Naturally, those of us who follow the issue know that the soldiers and police in Israel are protecting those being harassed by extremists, not beating and stripping them.

It’s nearly impossible to find an article in mainstream Western media about the [new] Libyan National Transitional Council chief’s pledge to uphold Islamic law and ease polygamy prohibitions. Yet, The Washington Post has no qualms about running headlines on “religious limits on women in Israel.” Of course, these latest articles neglect to mention the laws that restrict women’s rights in almost all Arab countries. Perhaps there are no headlines, because in most Arab countries, the Sharia (Islamic Law) rules the land, and women are accorded a role inferior to that of men.

The bottom line is that while the activities and behaviors of these extremists in Israel is awful, in nearly every part of the Arab world, women would be thrilled to be treated as the extremists in Beit Shemesh are treating the female inhabitants. Yelling and spitting upon the Arab women would be a dream compared to current conditions they face. It’s incumbent upon the Jewish people to do all we can to challenge the media for their continued double standard on all issues surrounding Jews and Israel.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, 1 of the 25 largest US PR firms, and author of the best selling PR book “For Immediate Release” which may be purchased here.

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  • Pusheter Yid

    COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW OF THE CHAREDI COMMUNITY IN ISRAEL

    Ultra orthodox Jews known as Charedim number between 500,000-800,000 men women and children in Israel. The common attribute per-say is the strict observance of Torah according to Shulchan Aruch with no reform or concessions. The men usually dress similarly with black hats and coats of various sorts. Married ladies wear hear coverings, clothes covering the elbows and knees.

    But as with every society, there are various groups of thought which in effect divide them politically and ideologically.

    There may be hundreds of factions of Charedim, but you may generalize them as divided to four main groups:

    1) Agudath Israel
    2) Sfardim – Shas
    3) Edah Charedit
    4) Non Aligned

    The vast majority of Charedim in Israel are alinged with Agudath Yisrael both ideologically and politically.

    *** Agudath Yisrael historically backed and facilitated the establishment of the State of Israel. Under agreement with Ben Gurion they received autonomy on their education and recognition of the State affirming Orthodoxy as its officially recognized stream of Judaism and authority thereof.

    Agudath Yisrael is comprised of Jews of European decent, generalized as either Litaim or Chassidim. The Litaim have two main Spiritual Leaders; Rabbi Elyashiv and Rabbi Shteinman. The Chassidim each adhere to their courts Rebbe’s rulings and teachings. In the Knesset they run together under a party named United Torah Judaism which usually wins 5 or six seats.

    *** The Orthodox Sfardim (Jews from African-Arab countries) mostly immigrated to Israel after the founding of the State of Israel. They number much less than their Ashkenazi counterparts, but their political party Shas holds 11 seats in the Knesset due to votes from traditional or non observant Sfardim (in 1999 they won 17 seats). Their leader is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef former Chief Sfardi Rabbi of Israel. He presides over the Council of Torah Sages, the Spiritual leadership of Shas.

    *** Edah Hacharedit is traditionally Ashkenazic and seen as Chassidic. They are based in Jerusalem’s Meah Shearim district with a newer satellite community in Bet Shemesh.

    Indigenous to the Holy Land, they passively objected to the founding of the State of Israel in a secular format and still passively object to taking part in any political activity involved with the State of Israel. They have no representation in the local councils or Knesset and do not accept the finance of The State. Contrary to popular belief, they pay taxes in the form of income tax and VAT, just like regular citizens. They have a Hatzala foundation where Diaspora Philanthropist fund their institutions. The Spiritual Leadership is divided between a panel of Rebbe’s from their various courts with the traditional leadership of a “G’aavad” which is appointed by election. They make up @ 15% of the general Charedi community.

    It is the Edah Hacharedit which is usually portrayed in the Media as Ultra-Orthodox fanatics due to their ever-too-often protests against desecration of graves and the Shabbat. There have been many clashes between the Israeli Police and the Edah Hacharedit at their protests. On a daily basis, these people go around their own personal life quietly but refuse to be influenced by or come in contact with the secular world.

    The Hebrew use of the words Edah Charedit is misleading and is understood to mean the whole Charedi Community.

    A break off faction from the Edah Hacharedit is the Neturei Karta who actively opposes Zionism, and demands the return of land to the Palestinians. They number no more than a few hundred families, but are a very vocal minority.

    Another break off group has recently emerged branded as “Srikrikim”. This is an underground movement of self acclaimed zealots who cause trouble to the Orthodox and Secular alike. This group of not more than 50 to 100 persons actively resort to violence or unorthodox activities to make their point heard. These people have been condemned by the Edah Hacharedis, Agudath Israel, Shas, and the National Religious Front who cooperate with the Police in order to dissolve this organization and bring them to justice.

    There are a number of Chassidic courts who have no political agenda and blend in with the rest of the Charedi community. It is to be noted that the large Chassidic court of Belz is not traditionally affiliated with any political party, but is currently running under the Agudah banner.

    ======

    With all the above in mind, there is no logic way to string together the latest events as if to portray a new trend of extremism within the Charedi community. Notwithstanding, the media in Israel has done so with great ease, due to the ignorance of the public.

    The Segregated busses have been operating by Egged and Dan, willingly for the last ten years (!) on inter-city busses on routes between Charedi cities with 99% charedi usage, parallel to other regular busses on the same routes. It has been assessed and legalized by Israel’s High Court. This has major consensus throughout the Charedi community as an effort to preserve Tzniut and to prevent Sexual Harrassment on Public transport. (Recent statistics in Israel has shown that over 50% of women have been harassed in Public places, of which 25% on public transport). Note that hong Kong has separate carriages for women on their trains, for the same reason.

    Segregation is voluntary, and is the accepted norm on these bus lines. Tens of thousands of trips have been made with no ado and an isolated event on one bus should not be associated to a population of 800,000 people or reflect any rabbinical position on how to act.

    Bet Shemesh has been a hot spot for tensions, and many Charedim refrain from living there due to this. The spitting incident hasn’t been proven, but was in any case perpetuated by the Secular Media in an attempt to connect recent events into a “wave of extremism”.

    Notwithstanding, all Orthodox Rabbinical leaders condemned these actions collectively and publicized their opinion via their politically aligned newspapers, Hamodia, Hamevaser, Mishpacha, Yom LeYom and on Israel’s general Radio & TV.

    ====

    So why is this happening?

    It’s no secret that Israel’s media is dominated by the Secular Left. Netanyahu understood this very well once elected and decided to publish his own tabloid which is now Israel’s most circulated daily newspaper, noting that it is free of charge.

    The Kadima Party headed by Tzipi Livni won the most seats in the last election, but could not create a coalition. Netanyahu set a up a strong coalition of Secular Right (Yisrael Beiteinu), Traditional right (Likud), Religious Right-Center (Aguda) Religious Center-Left (Shas), and surprisingly the rival Left Party (Avoda) headed by former PM Ehud Barak.

    Ever since, Tzipi Livni struggles with power in her own party against Shaul Mofaz . She serves as a very sloppy Opposition Leader, with no clear cut vision or ideology. She has run a very impulsive opposition reacting to events which occur and placing the blame on the Coalitions shoulders.

    This was the case of the fraying ties with Turkey which she blamed on Liberman & Netanyahu, only to be reminded by the press that it was actually Kadima in power when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey clashed with Israel’s President Shimon Perez.

    Again she condemned the Netanyahu for the mess caused on the Mavi Marmara Flotilla to Gaza, but public opinion was with the IDF and her opposition became unpopular.

    But then came her chance, the tragic fires on Mt Carmel, where 41 people died after a bus shuttling Prison wardens got engulfed in the fire and was unable to escape back down the road. Shas Leader Eli Yishai who serves as Israels Interior minister was directly blamed by Kadima and its proxies for the deaths caused. He was publicly shamed at a memorial service and was made to leave. The Press made a great deal of this and spent many days and weeks placing the blame on this important coalition member calling for his resign.

    Once Gilad Scahlit was released by Hamas, in exchange for Palestinian terrorists, and returned home, Netanyahu’s rating skyrocketed. Tzipi Livni voiced her opinion against Netanyahu claiming the deal only strengthened the Hamas. The public didn’t buy this cheap attempt of opposition, and demanded to know why, if this was her opinion, she didn’t voice it prior to the closing of the deal.

    Meanwhile, Shelley Haimovitch was elected as chairwoman of the Labour Party (Ehud Barak broke off to form his own party; Independence). This has seriously challenged Livni with Haimovitch a former TV personality and renowned author growing popular with Israeli women.

    So with unpopularity in the public and imminent primaries in her own party, someone had to change her strategy. And so it was, portrayal of the Netanyahu government as an extremist one, or even better, let’s run under the women’s rights banner, two birds with one stone.

    First came the media item of “woman singing in the IDF” upon a silent walkout of some Religious-National soldiers from an event where lady soldiers sung. (According to Halacha, men listening to live women singing should be refrained from). But then, she was reminded that statistically, the Religious-National serve in combat units more than any other group of citizens.

    So finally, her lifesaver: Orthodox segregation on busses. Picking on the Orthodox is easy. They don’t see or hear the Secular Press, nor do they have representation there. One can air his/her opinion or distort facts with no fear of retribution. The Orthodox have only two radio stations and one internet site which attract only orthodox audiences. So their voice is not heard in Public as it should.

    Kadima then launched a capaign “Nashim Kadima” or “Ladies at the Front” advertised on public busses, showing her intentions and without doubt who was behind the last attack on the Charedim.

    I would not be surprised if she garnered international help in her efforts to topple Netanyahu. I remind everyone that Hillary Clinton’s remark of Israel being worse than Iran because of segregation on busses came way before anyone spat or told a lady to move to the back of a bus

    Can anyone remind Livni & Clinton that segregated buses existed under Kadima’s Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert? Where was she then?

    Happy with the ratings, the Israeli Media found it not hard to pick a fight and look for some Charedi reaction, anything and everything connected to women and tzniyut was perpetuated and portrayed as Religious Extreme and Exclusion of Ladies from the public.

    A Bet Shemesh Synagogue had a sign requesting women to refrain from using a certain alley used by Synagogue worshippers, which was up for 10 years, but it became great fodder for the press, and they came to rip it down with the Police. (Such a thing could have been done peacefully with a court order and dialogue with worshippers).

    Spitting in Israel is a common sign of disgust, so they found someone there who in a moment of idiocy spat at the direction of a little girl. That became a sensation!

    An Orthodox Jew called a lady soldier “Prutza” (immodest) for coming up too close to him on a bus, so someone called the police and that became an immediate headline. Oh, he was arrested and charged for Sexual Harassment, no less.

    This comes at a time where the Orthodox has become more liberal than ever before. There is a rise in their recruitment to the Army & Police force. They have set up many colleges for Charedim to learn for degrees and many more are entering the broader workforce of high tech and law firms. Even the Edah Charedit elected a liberal European born leader. Agudah and Shas haven’t proposed any law of religious sentiment for years. They have learned to live and let live.

    So 800,000 people suffer for the actions of a few people. Isnt that racism?

    Jews abroad, secular and religious are feeling estranged by gentiles, who don’t understand what’s going on.

    We can’t blame the public for being naïve and believing this propaganda. How can they know better? We can oppose the cynic use of individuals of the public on both sides for political gains.

  • Joey Rerde

    Mr. Ronn D. Torossian – I couldnt agree with you more. Thanks for these wise words. May Gd shine light upon Am ISrael.

  • Rosie

    Problem with any sort of religious extremism is that we tend to tolerate our own crazies. The Beit Shamesh nuts had been doing this fringe business for quite a while and had it not been for that traumatized 7 year old, these zombies would have carried on.

  • salvage

    >Why does the media neglect to cover the tribulations of Saudi women

    And that has what to do with it? Are saying the media doesn’t cover it?

    >. I haven’t seen an AP headline that focused on the fact that Saudi women can’t vote,

    Did you, y’know, look?

    ___________________

    Saudi women to run, vote without male approval

    By ABDULLAH AL-SHIHRI, Associated Press – 4 days ago

    RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Women in Saudi Arabia will not need a male guardian’s approval to run or vote in municipal elections in 2015, when women will also run for office for the first time, a Saudi official said Wednesday.

    The change signifies a step forward in easing the kingdom’s restrictions against women, but it falls far short of what some Saudi reformers are calling for.

    ___________________

    There’s this thing called Google, one would think that the CEO of one of the 25 largest US PR firms would be aware of it.

    At any rate Israel is a “democracy” in the same way South Africa was a “democracy”, sure it’s better than the theistic monarchies and Stalinist dictatorships that one usually finds in the Middle East but it’s still a theocracy with a terrible human rights track record.

    I know, I know, whenever Israel does something bad they had no choice and Saudi Arabia blah blah Syria blah blah as if other people doing bad worse things makes doing bad things less worse.

    Oh and it’s cute the way you try and paint the Ultra Orthos as some sort of fringe nutcase sect when in fact they are common in Israel and have considerable political power.

    • Haim Goldstein

      Salvage you savage – you are simply foolish. Do a google search and tell me how many articles there are for the saudi government policy vs a few Jewish extremists. Read the AP tone “a step forward” that in 3 years women wont need approval to vote ? thats a government policy – vs a few crazy Jews. Torrossian of 5wpr is absolutely right

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