How Anti-Semitism Hides Among the Intellectual Elite – Ed Husain’s Offensive Tweet
Over the weekend, a number of newspapers breathlessly published a story about an El Al flight that was delayed due to the apparent inconsiderateness of some Haredi passengers:
A flight from New York to Tel-Aviv descended into an “11-hour long nightmare” after ultra-orthodox Jewish passengers on board refused to sit next to women, delaying take-off and causing further disruption during the flight.
On Wednesday, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the El Al flight to Israel was carrying a large number of ultra-Orthodox Jews intending to celebrate the Jewish New Year in Israel, alongside a number of secular Jews.
But the flight did not take off on time, according to Shalom Life, after a group of Haredi Jewish passengers refused to sit next to women, believing that men and women should be segregated.
“People stood in the aisles and refused to go forward,” a passenger on board the flight, Amit Ben-Natan, told the publication.
“Although everyone had tickets with seat numbers that they purchased in advance, they asked us to trade seats with them, and even offered to pay money, since they cannot sit next to a woman. It was obvious that the plane won’t take off as long as they’re standing in the aisles,” he said.
The Haredi passengers agreed to sit in their assigned seats for take-off, but one passenger described the overall experience as an “11-hour long nightmare,” referring to the difficulty before take-off and the ensuing disturbances on board, caused by the Haredi passengers “jumping out” of their seats when the fasten-seatbelt sign was switched off.
The newspaper then added that there was controversy in London recently when religious Jews put up signs on a public street requesting that men and women who were attending a religious procession walk on opposite sides of the street for the duration.
I’m not defending the reported rudeness of the haredim. They could have bought extra seats to remain empty, they could charter flights, they could wrap themselves in large garbage bags if they mistakenly believe that Judaism doesn’t allow them to sit next to women. (Somehow, there are plenty on New York subways and buses jostling people next to them like everyone else.) There is no excuse for them to inconvenience others by standing in the aisles during the flight. But this is hardly a big news story.
A little research shows that the flight left about 25 minutes after its average departure time and it arrived 7 minutes behind its usual arrival. This is hardly earth-shaking news. But when you have strange black-clad men acting weird, it turns into a story.
Ed Husain is the model of a modern, moderate Muslim. He is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and a Senior Advisor at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. A former Islamist who wrote about his experiences, he was appointed to the Freedom of Religion or Belief Advisory Group of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
When he read this article he was moved to tweet:
Really? Religious Jews who offer to pay people so they can better adhere to their own beliefs are the inspiration for jihadists who would behead them instead?
Religious Jews in the Diaspora try, by and large, try to adhere to their beliefs from within the system. They might ask for reasonable accommodation but not to change how everyone else lives their lives. (It is the non-religious Jews who get upset over, and try to ban, Christmas displays and trees in malls, not the haredim.)
Tolerance works both ways.
It is 100 percent true that the Haredim need to ensure that their beliefs do not impinge on the rights of others.
On the other hand, supposedly progressive people need to be at least as tolerant towards others as they insist others be. It is easy to say that you aren’t an anti-Semite when the Jews you don’t object to are indistinguishable from everyone else. But real tolerance means that you accept everybody who is not like you. It applies to the disabled, to those of different skin colors, and to those who wear what you consider funny clothing for religious reasons.
Husain may be considered a shining example of a progressive Muslim – but he just revealed himself to be a bigot nonetheless. The comparison he makes is thoroughly offensive and patently false on a number of levels. Any supposed liberal who is not offended by his comparison needs to examine his or her own beliefs a lot more carefully.
This is an example of how supposed intellectuals – people who are in the forefront of religious freedom! – can still be racist. It is disheartening that the response on Twitter has been so tepid.
I hope that Husain realizes how truly disgusting and bigoted his tweet was and apologizes for it.