Sheldon Adelson is Israel’s reigning newspaper baron. He owns one, Israel HaYom, which is the largest daily in the country and is known as Bibi’s mouthpiece. It’s nickname is “Bibi-Times.” He also bought two other failing papers, Maariv and Makor Rishon. The latter was formerly owned by a settler tycoon, and retains its ultra-Orthodox/settler ideological orientation.
This week, after years of negotiation which had led to a tentative compromise offering non-Orthodox women access to an egalitarian prayer site at the Kotel, Bibi Netanyahu reneged on the agreement. He did so under pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition allies, who already have a rabbinic monopoly on national civic matters like birth, death, marriage and divorce. In addition to their control over these critical social processes, the ultra-Orthodox have maintained restrictive regulations at the Kotel which made women second-class citizens. Women were confined to a small area, while men had a broad open area to access the sacred wall. Women could not lead a formal prayer service, nor lead a Torah reading–all critical aspects of Jewish worship.
When the Women of the Wall began as an NGO dedicated to full access for women to the Wall, the Orthodox establishment reacted with violence and anger. They spat at the women, they ripped prayer books from their hands. They screamed. They cursed them. It was ugly. Police were called in. Women were arrested and booked as criminal for carrying Torah scrolls.
Then, Natan Sharansky’s Jewish Agency stepped in attempting to broker a compromise. For several years, the women negotiated in good faith with government politicians and the Kotel Taliban, er rabbis. A compromise seemed to be in reach. Then it all came tumbling down this week as the “beards” buckled down on Bibi and forced him to back out. The problem for American Jews is that they have only a tiny constituency in an Israeli political system defined by ethnic or religious affiliations. As there is no clear secular, non-Orthodox political movement catering to their interests, they’re left out in the cold.
They can bitch and moan. They can withdraw a dinner invitation to Bibi. They can threaten to withdraw their increasingly irrelevant philanthropic largesse. But it means little to Bibi. It’s the equivalent of a gnat buzzing around his face; or a mosquito drinking a liquid cocktail on the Israeli body politic.
But that hasn’t stopped the Jewish Taliban from counter-attacking in defense of their Kotel prerogatives. Makor Rishon published a scandalous, even anti-Semitic attack on the Kotel egalitarians couched as a thinly-concealed fable about a Diaspora community called “Jewishville.” If that strikes those of you of a certain age as an echo of Jesse Jackson’s “Hymietown” slur, it should. A cartoon accompanying the article showed a mock-up of U.S. currency, featuring a graphic image of a kippah-wearing American Jew wearing a blindfold. Under his image was the caption: “In $$$ We Trust.” The implication was that American Jews would use the leverage of their charitable clout to punish Israel. To get a sense of the tone of this sophomoric slur, here are the opening lines:
Chris Smith, whose real name was once Moishe Rosenfeld, was shocked. The head of the umbrella organization for Reform Jews in Jewishville, a mid-sized, but bustling town in the American Midwest, was rocked by this week’s events concerning the Kotel deal…
Considering Israeli right-wing politicians feign enormous sensitivity to anti-Semitism, and see it glowering under the mattress of every BDS or Palestinian NGO, it’s beyond shocking that this dreck would pass muster for publication in any Jewish media outlet. For an Orthodox Israeli Jew to use tropes lifted directly from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to portray the motives of non-Orthodox Jews is beyond the Pale. It’s certainly disgusting. It should be impermissible. It should be denounced by every politician of every Party. But in latter-day Israel, it’s par for the course: if you are liberal or leftist you are treated like dirt, like sewage. This is what Israel has become, and it is why the next generation of Diaspora youth will either renounce Israel or treat it with a very critical eye, outcomes Israeli Jews will rue when they need support (and they will) and it isn’t there.
Oh, and this charming fairy tale was written by Ariel Schnabel. Remember that name: he’s not just an idiot. He’s an anti-Semitic idiot. And Makor Rishon lists Him as a “senior journalist. His partner in crime, the cartoonist, is Gonen Ma’atuk. Julius Streicher would be proud of their handiwork. Adelson, if he had an ounce of Jewish (or any sort of) decency, should not.