Shas' book bonfire
By Haaretz Editorial
On the occasion of Shas' annual Lag Ba'omer celebration, the party introduced a new custom burning copies of the New Testament. The initiator of the book burning, Or Yehuda deputy mayor Uzi Aharon, claimed that it was a spontaneous act, an angry protest against missionary activity being reported in the city. Among the witnesses to this "spontaneous act" were schoolchildren. A reporter from Maariv documented the event.
Just this past Independence Day, the religious community threatened to boycott the annual World Bible Quiz because of the participation of a young girl from a Messianic family, as if knowledge of the Bible necessitates belonging to the Jewish religion, or any other religion. The Messianic Jews number a few thousand in Israel, and as long as they do not stalk children or try to convince them to change their religious beliefs, their standing in this country should be equal to that of other religious and ethnic groups who enjoy freedom of practice and worship as stipulated in the Declaration of Independence and protected by law.
The indifference to their persecution attests to the treatment of minorities in Israeli society. If it were Jewish holy text rather than Christian books that were burned in some European country, it is safe to assume that the leaders of that country would fall over themselves in rushing to condemn the act, all the while they are painted with the broad brush of anti-Semitism.
In Israel, the coalition's survival depends on Shas, the rabbis support the book burning, though do so quietly, and all that is left to do is to await a decision by the attorney general to bring to trial those responsible. Any kind of significant public statement against the persecution of groups for their beliefs is not in the offing. The burning of religious books connotes horrific events from the past that are difficult to erase from memory. In 1933, the Nazis incinerated the works of Germany's great Jewish literary figures, gathering the public to watch burnings in Berlin's Opera Square. A monument designed by Israeli artist Micha Ullman stands at the square as a chilling reminder of the event and what followed. Throughout history, people of faith have burned religious books of other faiths. Mao Zedong burned Buddhist books, just as the Taliban did a few years ago.
A democracy must not tolerate behavior that is considered normal in totalitarian regimes. The concern is that the persecution of Messianic Jews is rationalized by a twisted interpretation of Jewish sovereignty, as if we were dealing with something resembling an Iran-like enterprise whose raison d'etre was taking revenge on the gentiles. If the deputy mayor of Or Yehuda remains in his post, it will only strengthen the perception that the persecution of minorities has not been discontinued due to its revolting nature. As long as Shas produces the likes of Uzi Aharon, the lighter of the bonfire, it must be viewed as a full participant in this act
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