Last week, veteran Israeli-Palestinian peace process negotiator and author Aaron David Miller penned a column for the New York Times in which he wrote the following about Israel: “The country’s demographics look bad — too many ultra-Orthodox Jews, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and not enough secular Jews.” Normally, when someone looks at a country’s ethnic makeup and identifies the “problem” as the proliferation of everyone except his own kind, the very reasonable obvious objections will be made across the board.
Miller’s line did not engender this outrage, because it was aimed at Haredim, to which the normal rules of civility do not apply in the American media. But he came in for a walloping from what may seem an unlikely source: David Landau. Landau, the former editor of Haaretz, has made shockingly offensive comments about Israel, and is currently Israel correspondent for The Economist, a magazine whose Israel coverage includes just this type of casual bigotry toward the Haredim. (Three weeks ago, the magazine wrote that “the hallmark of haredism is intolerance.”) But Landau was so upset by Miller’s apparent ignorance that he rose to a quite effusive defense of the Haredim in an interview with his former newspaper:
“I’m sitting here and thinking to myself, ‘Could a non-Jewish person have written that?’” asks Landau. “Would Aaron David Miller have written in The New York Times that the demographics in Turkey look bad — too many veiled women and not enough secular Turks?’ Could he get away with writing that? I feel like saying to him, ‘Tell me, have you bothered checking the demographics of the Jewish community of Cleveland, Ohio, where you come from? Today, 49 percent of the Jewish children in New York are Haredi, so Aaron David Miller has to look in his own backyard before he makes this sort of statement. This is the kind of know-it-all elitism that has been so characteristic of the Diaspora Jewish leadership and the Israeli elite for so long. It’s pathetic, and if in this Economist piece, I’ve succeeded in making six people of consequence rethink Jewish demographics, then the whole thing was worth it.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ability to blur the distinctions between Haredim and Orthodox Zionists, maintains Landau, has contributed enormously to his political success. “The fact that it’s been so easy for Bibi to lump together all the Haredi parties with the settlers and make them the bulwark of his coalition — it’s remarkable when you think about it. Has anyone thought about the fact that there are really no Haredim in the West Bank? That in 2005 the Haredim joined Sharon’s government with the full knowledge that this would enable him to move ahead with the disengagement from Gaza? Why hasn’t that left an impact on people?”
Landau makes an important point: identifying Haredim with religious fanaticism shows a disturbing lack of basic knowledge about both Judaism and the state of Israel. Are there incidents of intolerance from the Haredim? Indeed there are, though not on the scale of the hateful blacklisting, threats of violence, and near riot that took place in Tel Aviv when some Chabadniks tried to move into a secular neighborhood.
In truth, neither the yeshiva students nor the secular Jews are accurately represented by the few among them who misbehave. And American Jews probably hope that Israelis don’t think Miller is representative of the level of knowledge and engagement of the Diaspora.