Sunday 26 July 2009

Who Do They Represent?

It is very seldom that I watch BBC World News these days. At one time, I used to watch it a great deal. That was until the Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 when I realised once and for all that the BBC's reporting was unacceptably biased against Israel. So it was unusual for me to change to the BBC World News channel the other day. In a way, I am sorry that I did because my eyes were shocked at the sight that greeted me.

The story that happened to be on the news at that moment was the one involving the arrest of 44 people in New Jersey on wide-sweeping corruption and money laundering charges. The pictures that I was watching showed people being escorted from a building to a police bus that had been brought to transport the suspects. What caught my attention in particular was the fact that more than a few of the people being arrested wore the unmistakable "uniform" of Haredi orthodox Jews. This picture is the one that is stuck in my mind, and I am sure in the minds of many others like me.

The wearing of a uniform or a particular style of dress is usually done for positive reasons to identify the individual with a certain group. In most cases, it is done according to rules that are laid down by virtue of a job or a position held. The examples that come to mind include policemen or women, airline attendants, schoolchildren, scouts, fire fighters, hospital workers etc. In some cases, the uniform is chosen by those wearing it for their own reasons. Examples include the Amish community and the Haredi sects of orthodox Jews. What is clear is that the wearer of the uniform is immediately identified with the group to whom the uniform belongs in both good and bad situations. This means that the uniform-wearer has a responsibility to himself as well as to others in the group. If he behaves in a negative way, he risks bringing discredit to all members of the group, and not only to himself.

In the case of the Haredi sects who choose to wear black trousers and jackets, white shirts and skullcaps (kippot) and long side locks, they are associated not only as Haredi orthodox Jews, but as Jews. This reflects, both positively and negatively, on all Jews and not only on Haredi Jews. More than this, because these groups hold themselves as more religiously observant and close followers of all religious laws, there is a natural expectation that their behaviour will be exemplary in their pursuit of religious adherence. As such, pictures of these people being arrested are even more shocking. Clearly these facts had escaped our New Jersey Rabbis who are currently in police custody.

When the local government officials and politicians were escorted to the police bus, it was difficult to identify them as such. They looked like any person and could have been a cleaner, electrician or plumber as well as a government official. But when the uniformed orthodox Jews were led to the bus, no commentary was required to state who they were and which group they were part of. The pictures spoke for themselves.

When wearing clothing that identifies your links to a group of any sort, the wearer has the responsibility of the entire group upon him. Not only should he behave well, he should be seen to behave well at all times. I cannot help thinking about the recent demonstrations in Jerusalem which have pitted Haredi Jews against the police, with some of the Haredis throwing stones and other objects at police. Even if their cause is good and they are justified in their protest, the sight of these people throwing stones at the police does Haredis and all Jews a great deal of damage.

The same is true of the New Jersey Rabbis. Whether or not they are found guilty on charges as serious as dealing in human organs, the damage to Jews across the world has been done. In the current climate where Jews are under more significant scrutiny and certain non-Jews are seeking any reason to speak out and act out against Jews, this sort of behaviour does no credit to the Jewish community. It promotes anti-Semitism and this is something that we can ill afford at this time.

The truth is, that despite our common ancestral bonds, I don't feel that they represent me in any way.

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