Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A light unto the nations, indeed.

In that grandest of New York traditions, some Hasidim in Boro Park got outraged about something, and so the logical response, of course, was to go godamn apeshit.

A routine traffic stop of a 75-year-old Hasidic driver in Brooklyn escalated into a protest last night by hundreds of Orthodox Jews, who surrounded a police station house, chanted "No justice no peace," lighted bonfires and set a police car afire. The driver and two other men were arrested, but no serious injuries were reported.

The Hasidim claim the old man is hard of hearing and that the police were being unecessarily rough.

Witnesses said the police were unnecessarily rough with an elderly man. "Arthur had stepped out of his car, and was pushed by police officers against the car and put in a hand-lock behind his back," said Sariel Widawsky, 49, a co-owner of Schick's bakery, formerly owned by Mr. Schick's family, who said he saw the arrest. "People saw what the police were doing to a 70-to-80-year-old man and starting screaming at police to leave him alone."

"They literally threw him down into the van," Mr. Widawsky said. "He fell on the first step. They picked him up and manhandled him into the van."

"Another witness said the police had overreacted. "For nothing — he didn't do anything — they cuffed him and took him like an animal," said Jacob Jacobvitz, 21.

Ok, they might have a legitimate grievance there. So what's the correct response? IMO, it's to intervene, gather a large crowd, confront the police, take pictures, raise a general stink, etc. It is NOT to jump on one of the officers' backs and then incite people to riot.

As rumors spread through the crowd that Schick had been beaten, tensions escalated and hundreds of people in traditional black garb poured onto 16th Ave. from 46th to 50th Sts. They set fire to old magazines, fruit boxes and other trash up and down the avenue.

Firefighters raced to put out at least seven blazes and water down the streets.

Demonstrators smashed the windows of one police cruiser and torched another by throwing a gasoline-soaked rag into its backseat. A helicopter searchlight swept the street, and riot police formed lines along 16th Ave., hollering, "Back on the sidewalk!"

But protesters didn't heed the warnings and ran through the streets, some yelling, "Nazi Germany!" at the officers.

Charming. I guess they don't learn about Godwin (or historical perspective) in kollel.

Oh, and incidentally, according to another eyewitness:

Witness Haskel Rosenfeld, 29, said he didn't see any mishandling of Schick.

"Four police put him in handcuffs, walked him down the block and put him in a car," Rosenfeld said. "The police had left, and during that time, people lit fires."

See, that's the problem here- not the least willingness to consider that you might be wrong, that someone in your community might have overreacted, etc. No, it's "treated him like an animal", "not our fault", and then, of course, the ubiquitous and infuriating "Nazi" cat-calls. It's arrogance, it's entitlement, and it's an embarassment.

In doing research for a historical novel about a year ago, I read several accounts of pogroms in the early 1900s. The general similarities here are pretty disturbing- (altercation between Jew and non-Jew; non-Jews start spreading rumors that "the Jews beat/killed a Christian"; Christians riot; Jews bleed.) This is actually kind of creepy, and I think it's related to a similar phenomenon we're seeing among the settlers in Israel- everyone thinks brutality and violence is fine as long as they aren't happening to them, and similarly, they think it's OK to use violence against others to make their point. No. WRONG. You don't get to play Lag B'Omer in April just because there are rumors that an elderly Jew may have been mistreated. You have a problem with the police? Protest. March. Boycott. Whatever. Don't act like pogromchiks, and don't you dare call anyone a Nazi over this ridiculous ass-pimple of an incident.

Gargh. So infuriating.

(And no, this is in no way saying all haredim in Brooklyn, or Boro Park, are street punks. But the people involved, and the people who are and will condone this, need to take a long hard look in the mirror, and think about exactly what kind of values they're teaching their young bochrim.)

Spodik-tip: DovBear. Video and pictures here.

Edit: Schick has been interviewed by the media and confirms that "this is not the way the community should be acting". Good for him. If there's something to the police brutality issue, pursue it via legal means- court, peaceful protests, etc. But not this madness.

I think this anonymous guy got it right:
Borough Park Resident: "Everybody was at fault, 100 percent, everybody was at fault."
Maybe. If the cops were in fact too rough, then sure. But at this point, I think the Boro Pogromchiks have kind of hurt their credibility just a tad.

Oh, and incidentally, Dov "hooray for racial profiling" Hikind- shut the hell up.
Doug Hikind, State Assemblyman: "There's no excuse for what that took place in terms of the police department...where people were clubbed....young people were maced."
Amona syndrome, anyone?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

More on Metzger

The Jerusalem Post's Anshel Pfeffer muses on why Metzger-gate just might save the dying fish that is the Chief Rabbinate:
The religious parties held out for years against demands to cancel the ridiculously outdated duality of Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis. Now by default, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar remains the sole chief, and it's hard to imagine anyone rushing to appoint Metzger's replacement.

Soft-spoken Amar can suddenly come out of media-loving Metzger's shadow and assert himself as the sensible and independent-minded rabbi that few today know he is.
Best part- what are Amar's qualifications for being head honcho, you ask?
If anyone can reconnect the rabbinate to Israeli society, it's the rabbi of humble origins who managed to weather the terrific scandal when his wayward son kidnapped the unsuitable suitor his sister met on the Internet. Like most Israelis, he had to overcome a dysfunctional family and his children know how to use a computer much better than he does.
I say, Anshel Pfeffer for Chief Rabbi. I've already got a slogan: "Why the Hell not?"

Monday, April 03, 2006

Best-laid plans

Peretz's ego trip falls apart.
The Shas committee of Torah sages led by the party’s spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on Monday ruled that the religious faction will recommend Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for the premiership.
It seems the other parties are following suit:
Earlier Monday, both the Pensioners Party and Meretz recommended Olmert for the post of prime minister.
Sorry, Amir. But maybe there's a lesson here somewhere: the voters don't like assholes. (C.f. Metzger.)

Last Thursday, Shas leader Eli Yishai met with Labor leader Amir Peretz to discuss the possibility of forming a "social front."

But Labor decided to pursue the possibility of an alternative governing coalition with right-wing parties, in a bid to circumvent Kadima and see Peretz appointed as prime minister.

However, [this] failed and the plan has been abandoned. Shas apparently understood this and decided to recommend Olmert.

Why Amir, you sneaky little fuck. You're just lucky that mustache works for you, or I'd be rather teed off right now. You get one free hit, goober. No more funny stuff.
Oh, and this was cute:
Likud representatives are expected to tell the president they view Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu as the best candidate to form a government, but in light of the political reality that has been created they will not be recommending anyone.


A7 has some very interesting pseudo-commentary from yesterday on the "possible realignment" a Labor-rightwing coalition would do to Israeli politics:
Labor’s preference for reaching a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian Authority, rather than making unilateral withdrawals from territory, may provide the raison d’etere for the nationalist right’s rapprochement with Labor.

With the Hamas in power in the Palestinian Authority and the chances for a negotiated settlement based on territorial compromise looking more and more remote, many right wing leaders reason they have nothing to lose by hooking up with Labor. Labor’s platform, moreover, calls for implementing the U.S. backed road map plan, which was accepted in principle by the nationalist right.

Up until the mid-1970’s, Labor’s calling card was providing infrastructure for settlement throughout the country, including Judea, Samaria, and Gaza (Yesha). The founders of Gush Emumim, the movement that spawned most of the settlements in Yesha, originally looked for backing among leaders of the Labor party.

Such support was not in short supply. Veteran party leaders, including Shimon Peres (now in Kadima), spent millions setting up numerous communities in Yesha, such as Kfar Darom and Netzarim in Gaza, and Kiryat Arba, Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Ofra, in Judea and Samaria, as well as a half dozen agricultural communities in the Jordan Valley.

Unlike the Likud, which destroyed Jewish communities in Sinai following the peace treaty with Egypt, and last summer in Gaza and northern Samaria, Labor has never taken down a single Jewish community in the land of Israel.
Wow, these guys MUST be getting desperate. At the same time, though, Peretz's behavior does highlight a tendency of Labor MKs (like most politicans, sadly) to basically do whatever they have to if it means staying in power. Let's hope Peretz is more like Mitzna than "hey, portfolios!" Peres.

Interesting twist

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced today that he was closing the fraud investigation against Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger.

However, Mazuz then said:
we found that in view of the significant flaws in Metzger's behavior and his way of conducting himself, it would be appropriate in these circumstances were he to assume personal responsibility and decide himself to resign from his job as a judge of the Supreme Rabbinical Court and as chief rabbi. He should do so out of recognition of the importance of the dignity and status of the institution of the Chief Rabbinate and the system of rabbinical courts. I hope he will do so.
Boo-ya! Metzger's people are furious, of course, and are accusing Meni of trying to try the Rabbi in the court of public opinion. But what's interesting is that people from the left AND right are finally standing up, taking notice, and telling Metzger- "screw you."

Quotes galore:
"I'm calling on Rabbi Metzger to resign his post in order to safeguard the honor of the Chief Rabbinate," Knesset Member Yitzhak Levy (National Union-NRP) said. "The Rabbinate needs to symbolize the Jewish values of morality and public decency, and must not be tainted by suspicions of corruption."

Meanwhile, leftist Knesset Member Avshalom (Abu) Vilan from Meretz said: "I'm calling on Metzger to heed the attorney general's recommendation and resign at once."

Labor Knesset Member Ophir Pines said that "in light of the serious affair, there's no possibility for Rabbi Metzger to remain in his post."
Some thoughts: on the one hand, Mazuz's going to the press instead of merely doing his job is a little disturbing and unprofessional.

At the same time, I'm rather impressed at his willingness to say, "Yes, you were too smart for me, but we've also caught you being an asshole red-handed", and to leave it to the people to decide if they care enough to fight about it. While populism can definitely be a two-handed sword, if it results in getting a corrupt and bumbling figurehead out of the Chief Rabbi's post, I'm for it. And it's nice to see a Meretz and NRP MK agreeing on something once and a while.

Could this be the sign of a new, no lower-BS policy in Israel? Let's wait and see how things progress.