Growing up in a Jewish household, when the Holocaust was discussed, the conversation would often end with the mighty promise, “never again.” However, the way I was raised, we weren’t confining the vow to just Jewish people – it was universally applied to mean protecting all people from intolerance, brutality, and genocide. It was instilled that we had the awesome responsibility to warn the world of the dire consequences of unrestrained bigotry and crackpot theories of racial or ethnic superiority.
This is why I was so disheartened to read about the behavior of Beitar Jerusalem soccer fans in Israel, who are vehemently opposing the addition of two Muslim players to the team. In an unthinkable betrayal of our ancestry, Beitar Jerusalem supporters taunted Palestinians at a soccer match by chanting, “The Temple Mount is on our hands,” and unfurled a grotesque banner that read “Beitar Pure Forever.”
Do Jewish people really need to be reminded of which infamous regime was known for promoting racial purity? The fans at this soccer match sounded like Mel Gibson clones that happen to be wearing stars of David. This offensive breach of decency and decorum is beyond unacceptable and an embarrassment to Jews everywhere. How can we expect the world to learn from our tragic history if we act like boneheaded bullies?
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that in Williamsburg, Brooklyn there are secret “modesty squads” that patrol the area enforcing Ultra-Orthodox decency codes. The thuggish morality police are so strict that they threaten to harm the businesses of storeowners who have female mannequins in their windows. According to the Times:
“The rules are spoken and unspoken, enforced by social pressure but also, in ways that some find increasingly disturbing, by the modesty committees. Their power is evident in the fact that of the half dozen women’s clothing stores along Lee Avenue, only one features mannequins, and those are relatively shapeless, fully clothed torsos.”
Okay, first I’d like to point out that if mannequins are turning you on, you are probably desperate, emotionally stunted, and a sexually dysfunctional mess that needs professional counseling. Second, the last thing we need in America are out-of-control fundamentalists behaving like a hybrid between Rev. Pat Robertson and the mafia. Third, it is clearly this type of repressive and coercive atmosphere that has led to a child molestation crisis in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community – one that often persecutes the victims who bravely come forward to confront their abusers. Fourth, along these same lines, the ultra-Orthodox sects are the few remaining Jewish groups with backward views on homosexuality. Some have foolishly sent their own children to fraudulent “reparative therapy” groups like Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (JONAH).
These disturbing incidents are not isolated. For example, the world was stunned when Jewish zealots in Israel spit on an eight-year-old girl who they believed was dressed immodestly. We have seen incidents where extremists have stoned LGBT Pride Parades in Jerusalem. There has been blatant discrimination against female soldiers within the Israeli military at the hands of the ultra-Orthodox. And, these radicals have been denying women the right to pray at the Western Wall.
We can only hope that the recent victory in Israel of Yair Lapid will begin to roll back the tide of extremism that is humiliating Jews across the globe. The majority of us want sanity returned to the debate over the future of Israel. This includes a peace process guided by legitimate security concerns and facts, instead of religious fervor and fantasies.
For many secular American Jews, Israel is a place of myth and magic, where we are finally masters of our own destiny. It is the promise of refuge in the unlikely event that anti-Semites gain in popularity or power in the United States. However, few of us desire to live or support a Jewish version of Iran. We simply cannot condone Jewish authorities sounding like ayatollahs or promoting rules that seem like they came from the Taliban.
Of course, being well mannered is not easy in Israel’s neighborhood, and I’m certainly not naïve about this nation’s challenges. For example, news reports revealed that Egypt’s president, Mohammed Morsi, previously said that Egyptians should “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” and said Israelis are “the descendants of apes and pigs.” If this weren’t bad enough, a top aide to Morsi recently said: “The myth of the Holocaust is an industry that America invented.”
Nonetheless, the answer to religious extremism isn’t more religious extremism. For the Jewish people to continue succeeding in Israel, or Brooklyn, we must remain reasonable, rational, and not allow fundamentalists, who are sexually aroused by mannequins, to determine our future.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”