For nearly 50 years it has been an article of faith among American conservatives that liberty and tradition are mutually reinforcing. Not only is there no inherent conflict between the two, the argument goes, but each works to the other’s benefit. As a corollary, religious observance, or at least cultural traits acquired through it, provides the moral basis for capitalist success. George Gilder, Irving Kristol, Daniel Lapin, the late Frank Meyer (the original “fusionist”), Michael Novak – these and other conservative authors have advanced this now-familiar view. A rapidly growing and incendiary divide among Israeli Jews, however, is putting this shibboleth to the test.
Welcome to Israel’s “other” war. It’s really a civil war in nascent form, one that pits modernity against extreme tradition. The conflict hasn’t gotten too much attention here. Yet if fully realized, it may well prove that country’s undoing. And we throughout the free world will be poorer for it.
From the beginning, even predating independence in 1948, Israel has been fighting a defensive war against the overlapping forces of Arab nationalism and Muslim fundamentalism. The Israelis know letting their guard down could spell national suicide. But Islamic paramilitary cults such as Hamas and Hezbollah, not to mention the more “moderate” Palestinian Authority, aren’t the only threats to Israel’s existence as a free nation. Lately, the country has been experiencing an upswing in mindless predatory violence of a different kind – and in the name of Judaism.
A major flashpoint occurred in early August. A group of ultra-Orthodox Jews – here known as “Hasidic,” there known as “Haredi” – surrounded and attacked Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and his entourage as they were leaving the neighborhood of Ezrat Torah. Barkat had paid a visit to a prominent rabbi as part of an attempt at political damage control. Apparently, local Haredi had been upset over the City’s decision to allow two public parking lots to remain open on Saturday – i.e., the Jewish sabbath – to ease a space shortage. Dozens of ultra-Orthodox went on a rampage, attacking police, throwing rocks and vandalizing property. At least one person e-mailed threats to Mayor Barkat and his deputy, whose visit did little to quell their blind rage.
Carl F. Horowitz is director of the Organized Labor Accountability Project of the National Legal and Policy Center, a Townhall.com Gold Partner organization dedicated to promoting ethics in American public life.
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