« This always happens to me during 'the 9 days' | Main | I do not like that Face book, Sam-I-am »

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The slap heard 'round the country

As old news goes, this certainly qualifies as first rate fish wrapping.  My only excuse for beating this particular dead horse is that when the topic was still somewhat fresh, I was so bat-sh*t angry about the event that I couldn't put together a coherent sentence on the subject. 

I'm referring, of course, to Justice Ministry attorney, Amnon De Hartog, having slapped a Member of Knesset (Yakov Cohen) after Cohen had said that the attorney was "more evil and terrible than the Nazis".

First of all, public discourse in Israel (and specifically in the Knesset) has always been shamefully full of obscenity, personal invective and ad hominem attacks.  In the UK and U.S., elected officials may despise one another, but they still refer to the subjects of their insults as "my esteemed colleague" or "the gentleman from Ohio"... although identifying someone in the latter manner might qualify as an insult all its own.  ;-)

Next, While many people made a big deal over the fact that MK Cohen is Haredi (ultra-orthodox), very little was mentioned in the media about the fact that Amnon De Hartog is also religious, albeit from the National Religious (Dati Leumi) camp.

Another thing not widely discussed in the media is the fact that Hartog has a truly unenviable job; divvying up government funding for educational institutions (not just haredi schools).  Much as the Haredim would like to say otherwise, Hartog's decisions to withhold funds from Haredi institutions seem to have been based on the fact that they (the institutions) don't adhere to government mandated curriculum/standards.  They simply don't teach what the government says they should teach... and they don't have exams and documentation required by the government body they expect to pay the bills. 

Hartog may not love Haredim, but if he is hanging his decisions on vetted policy... the Haredim should take their grievances to the Ministry of Education and not shoot (or curse) the messenger.  And likewise, if the Haredi institutions object to government criteria for receiving funds, they are under no obligation to meet them.  Just don't expect to receive a check at the end of the month.  Free will is a wonderful thing.

While MK Cohen may have been the 'injured party' in terms of being on the receiving end of the much-reported slap... I have zero tolerance for Jews who toss the 'N' (nazi) bomb at anyone with whom they disagree.  Yes, I feel that there should be zero tolerance for physical violence in the halls of government (as well as on the streets of this country), but there should also be some recognition that some speech is so incendiary as to be considered incitement to violence. 

My friend Ben Chorin put it best when he said "I think there should be a rule that any Jew who is called a Nazi by another Jew should have the right to slug the guy".

Taking a government employee to task over a real or imagined offense is one thing.  Calling someone whose father spent four years in Auschwitz, a nazi is quite another.  In a country where so many people are survivors, children of survivors or grandchildren of survivors, one can't reasonably trot out the 'how was I to know' defense.

Lastly, anyone who tries to turn this insult and resulting slap into a springboard for a discussion about government-funded Haredi education is being disingenuous.  Plain and simple, this was about the more immediate problem of the complete lack of civility in Israeli public discourse.

'At the back of the hill' has a nice dissection of the topic here.

[~gets down off of soapbox~]

216   

Posted by David Bogner on July 18, 2007 | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c581e53ef00e5503ed8688833

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The slap heard 'round the country:

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

My friend Ben Chorin put it best when he said "I think there should be a rule that any Jew who is called a Nazi by another Jew should have the right to slug the guy".

Agreed. That goes beyond the pale.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 18, 2007 10:20:03 AM

I knew De Hartog when I used to work at the Justice Ministry. Very sweet, gentle guy. If he lost his temper with the MK, the MK deserved it.

My only other criticism of the attack (besides my objection to violence) is that it has created undue sympathy for Cohen.

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Jul 18, 2007 11:17:40 AM

1. The fighting words doctrine.
2. The legislature (lege) as theater.

1. Don't know about Israel, but under US Constitutional law, there is an exception to free speech called the 'fighting words' doctrine. Precisely stated, some words are so incendiary that the hearer may respond with violence. For example, calling a man's mother a whore to his face will get your ass kicked in most of the 50 states (and if it don't, that state ain't worth squat). Shouting "You f*&%#@! n*&#@!" in Haarlem is suicide.

The doctrine has not been used in 60 years, but it is still good law.

2. You boys really need to get a perspective. Yeah, the House of Commons and the American Congress have high-and-mighty rules against hurling invective at another member, but the leges of lesser entities get medieval at times. In Texas, the lege has disappointed the people for TWO SESSIONS RUNNING! Not one fistfight in four years! What do they think we elect them for? To pass laws? 'Course not. We're smarter than that. We want entertainment. Give us a donnybrook on the floor of the House and an ass-kicking in the Senate that takes the Sergeant-at-Arms, four state troopers, and one Texas Ranger to bust up. Now THAT'S what I call a legislative session.

And you're bent out of shape about one little slap. Geez.

(Me? Had I been De Hartog, I would have beaten Cohen into intensive care. Just sayin'.)

Posted by: antares | Jul 18, 2007 3:52:34 PM

Did anyone bother to LISTEN to what was actually said, or do you all rely on [ugh!] Ha'aretz?! The word Cohen used, according to De Hartog himself [I heard him interviewed on the radio the day this happened] was "German" not the N-word. Again, it's pretty clear what his intention was, but the reaction was way overboard, "fighting words doctrine" or not. BTW, the Torah has no such law that one is allowed to hit another person for the use of a "bad" word!

Posted by: yitz | Jul 18, 2007 5:28:57 PM

A-freaking-men.

Posted by: ezer knegdo | Jul 18, 2007 5:29:25 PM

The author Gregory Levey, who worked as a speechwriter for various MKs, is about to publish a book about the experience? The title? "Shut Up, I'm Talking."

Posted by: Kayla | Jul 18, 2007 5:30:05 PM

Hmm. Do you know, I agre with your last paragrapg fully but disagree that you can clob anyone, regardless of who you are and what your job is, just bcs you were insulted, ragradless of insult.
Anyone representing a country has to know how to control himself, they are elected by the people, for the people - they are. The "people" are, of course, the problem since Israelis have turned rudeness not only into a way of life but also the solution to everything.

But at the end of the day it's not just another street brawl is it, it's the bloody Knesset! They should all be ashamed of themselves and not one bit of what happens in there is acceptable to me. Not one bit.

Posted by: Lioness | Jul 18, 2007 5:42:25 PM

Now, now - New Jersey is the state normally used when you want to insult someone, not Ohio. I'm in Ohio - that's where the jobs were at the time we moved here - both mine and my husband's. And sometimes the jokes about civilization being confined the the US coasts are true. Civility, however, seems somewhat more prevalent here.

I know a rabbinic student who completed a year of study in Israel and returned to the US with some (admittedly shamefaced) relief - over just the kind of stuff you're talking about.

Posted by: Iris | Jul 18, 2007 7:52:22 PM

when he said "I think there should be a rule that any Jew who is called a Nazi by another Jew should have the right to slug the guy".

Bravo. I would be equally offended as a gentile to be called a Nazi. But that is what passes for political debate now.

Whenever I hear someone compared to Hitler, I have to wonder; do they realize what they are saying?

Posted by: David Bailey | Jul 18, 2007 9:37:17 PM

I was personally pretty disgusted at the whole exchange - and the resulting reactions of everyone (press included).

There is absolutely no justification for physical violence - fighting words or no - between various members of the government. I saw explanatory articles trying to vindicate de Hartog's slap, but no amount of explanations can justify physical violence in response to words. Obviously, Cohen (and many others) played up a slap into something rather more than it was... but that doesn't justify the slap itself, either.

That being said, there's no justification for Cohen using such hurtful words, either. Certainly, it was a heated discussion that had already gotten to the level of insults, but it's not surprising that Cohen's specific comparison was likely to be a deeply insulting one (why didn't he just compare de Hartog to the Romans and save us this whole nonsense?).

*shrugs* We don't need to find the 'innocent' party in this exchange. Cohen used truly despicable speech, and de Hartog used violence.

Posted by: matlabfreak | Jul 18, 2007 9:52:40 PM

How well air conditioned was the room in which this debate occurred? It's the heat. I swear. And if the humidity is over, let's say, 50% and they were attempting to have intelligent discourse...

They should just kiss and make up.

Posted by: Alice | Jul 18, 2007 11:53:40 PM

On the lips.

Posted by: Alice | Jul 18, 2007 11:54:07 PM

I wish you would open this up to the fundng and compliance issue, because there are a few important background items that aren't being reported outside of the Chareidi media that shed a different light on the subject (I wrote about them on Dov Bear). But I won't be disingenuous and try to sneak it in over here, unless you first give me permission.

But the issue isn't just (the lack of) civility in the public discourse, it is also the introduction of personal issues and bias into professional decisions (and not just in this case).

When people start bringing in their seemingly blatant personal biases and pet causes into the public decision making process, emotions are going to begin to fly, especially when there is a history.

Posted by: JoeSettler | Jul 19, 2007 12:06:39 AM

1. If it makes you feel better, there have been fistfights (and worse) in the national political bodiesof the USA (at least one duel was initiated there, and there have been a few fistfights. And endless slurs other than "the gentleman from Ohio," I'm afraid.

2. I wonder if these people realise that every time they call someone a Nazi, they cheapen the use of that word, making the progression to comparisons witht hings like slavery - which is bad, but not quite genocide- not only inevitable, but logical.

Posted by: Kol Ra'ash Gadol | Jul 19, 2007 7:00:38 AM

1. If it makes you feel better, there have been fistfights (and worse) in the national political bodiesof the USA (at least one duel was initiated there, and there have been a few fistfights. And endless slurs other than "the gentleman from Ohio," I'm afraid.

2. I wonder if these people realise that every time they call someone a Nazi, they cheapen the use of that word, making the progression to comparisons witht hings like slavery - which is bad, but not quite genocide- not only inevitable, but logical.

Posted by: Kol Ra'ash Gadol | Jul 19, 2007 7:17:51 AM

Jack... A shameful event all around, though.

Dave (Balashon)... Anyone who gained sympathy for Cohen after reading what he said is an idiot in my book.

antares... I don't know if we have something comparable here, but I certainly would not want us emulating the wild west attitude in many U.S. locales. no defense to your Texas sensibilities. :-)

Yitz... I am troubled by the fact that the only people I see defending Cohen (or at least trying to justify/equivocate his words, are Haredim. And it makes no difference to this discussion if the Torah makes no allowances for what antares described. Israel is a liberal democracy... not a theocracy that follows Torah law.

ezer knegdo... Let's not go dragging religion into this. :-)

Kayla... Thanks for the heads-up.

Lioness... I disagree. Things that occur in the seat of government reflect on the country and serve to set the tone for the country (if not an example for its people). It may not be fair, but I hold them to a higher standard... not a lower one.

Iris... It's funny the way residents of Ohio and New Jersey are always ready to throw the other state under the bus when it comes to being the brunt of jokes. :-)

David Bailey... I agree. Just as someone who habitually curses probably lacks the vocabulary to properly take someone to task... using 'nazi' and 'hitler' to try to hurt someone is probably a sign that the speaker lacks the tools to properly express themselves.

matlabfreak... I never meant to imply that there was an innocent party. If you are following a reckless driver too closely and end up rear-ending them, you are legally at fault. Neither party is innocent but only one is legally at fault.

Alice... Behave. :-)

JoeSettler... Not even remotely relevant. If a meter maid stands by your car for twenty minutes waiting for the meter to expire and gleefully writes you a ticket 10 seconds before you return, you are not legally allowed to curse him/her out. You can tell me all you want about how a government functionary took pleasure in using the system to screw someone... but if he was acting within the rules, you can't justify cursing him out.

Kol Ra'ash Gadol ... I have written in the past about how overusing words like 'nazi' end up diluting their power for future generations. This is a huge problem.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 19, 2007 2:07:30 PM

My first point was a statement of fact. That's the way the world is. It is not the way I wish it were; it is not the way you wish it were; it is not the way anybody wishes it were. It simply is.

My second point was satire. You people are way too bent out of shape over this. It was a slap! Spending two minutes on a discussion of the fact that one member of the Knesset slapped another is two minutes you don't spend on matters THAT ARE FRELLING IMPORTANT! Oh, I'm sorry. I guess the IDF recovered those 3 kidnapped soldiers and I just missed the news flash.

You live in a frelling war zone. There are exactly three places in the world more dangerous on a daily basis than Israel, and you waste time on a slap.

Tell you what. You want courteous behavior? The most courteous society the world has ever seen was the Republic of Texas. Why? Because rude behavior would get you killed. Men went armed. Not some. All. There were no police to patrol the streets; police had only been invented in London 3 years before the Republic and, only London had a police force. Comanches raided as far as the Gulf Coast, stealing and killing. (Their favorite entertainment was to slowly burn off the noses of their captives by applying hot coals.) Mexican bandits and the Mexican Army continued to raid Texas throughout the years of the Republic. Every man went armed because his life depended on it. When death is your constant companion, you bet you learn not to give offense.

Grow up.

Posted by: antares | Jul 19, 2007 2:53:48 PM

Trep -
To add to what Antares said about "rude behavior getting you killed" -
I was on a gig once with a certain Gentile guitarist whom we both know. This guy is one of the sweetest, most gentle human beings I know (if I told you the name, you would concur). During the dance set, he had to put up with some incredibly rude behavior from a Chasid who was way too deep in his cups. After the set, I apologized on behalf of my co-Orthos. He told me something very deep - the reason he doesn't get this kind of abuse from non-Jews was because said Gentiles would expect to be "taken outside" and have the [email protected]#$ pounded out of them. He meant it as a compliment - Orthos generally aren't violent, so they don't have the same checks and balances, and feel they can say whatever they want. Me, I think a judicious slap or two might not be so bad. PS - I agree about the whole Hitler-Nazi thing. Unless you're talking about our friend Haman/Ahmedinejad, anyone who uses that slur should expect to be slapped. Or worse.

Posted by: psachya | Jul 19, 2007 7:26:36 PM

Sounds like MK Cohen was brought up in the US, where one can toss around "BusHitler" or "little Eichmanns" with abandon and nary a twitter of conscience.

Next time you see him, tell him I expect better self-control, wouldja? If he wants to talk like an a**hole he should run for office here.

Posted by: wrymouth | Jul 19, 2007 10:30:50 PM

*smiles* We're agreed on that, David.

Posted by: matlabfreak | Jul 20, 2007 6:57:24 AM

Antares,

You live in a frelling war zone. There are exactly three places in the world more dangerous on a daily basis than Israel, and you waste time on a slap.

I can think of quite a few places that are more dangerous than Israel. Some of those places are located in developed countries like the US.

You want courteous behavior? The most courteous society the world has ever seen was the Republic of Texas.

That applied to much of the frontier US as well. Still, back in the early '80s when I lived in Houston, I noted that people in rush hour traffic allowed others to change lanes and nobody blew their horn. For the reason you mentioned. But that's not just a Texas thing, it occurs (with certain exceptions) throughout the southern and western states.

Posted by: K Newman | Jul 20, 2007 12:40:54 PM

antares... Whoa, easy does it there cowboy! :-)

psachya... I'm still having trouble with the concept that we should somehow be celebrating a culture where bad behavior could get you killed.

wrymouth ... Not that I know of.

K Newman... Again, is that a good thing?

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 22, 2007 3:32:37 PM

While I mostly agree with your post, this article by Obadiah Shoher presents the haredim in somewhat different light http://samsonblinded.org/blog/not-true-rabbis.htm Shoher argues against haredim isolating themselves from other Jews instead of bringing the religion to masses.

Posted by: Nikol | Sep 15, 2007 7:03:18 PM

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In