It wasn’t exactly enjoyable news to read at this time: Residents of the Ramat Aviv neighborhood in northern Tel Aviv decided last week to adopt several operative steps in an attempt to prevent what they characterized as an ultra-Orthodox takeover. This didn’t exactly give off a scent of the unconditional love, pluralism, and tolerance that northern Tel Aviv boasts on regular days.
And don’t think that had it not been about the Orthodox, but rather, about Arabs or Ethiopians, the residents would have posted “welcome” signs at the entrance to their refined neighborhood. They would not have done so. This can be seen in their reasoning: “Some will argue that we are racist or anti-Semitic, and that anyone has the right to live wherever he wants. This isn’t true, because such takeover changes the neighborhood’s character, lowers real estate prices, pushes secular youths towards becoming religious, and may prompt the closure of entire streets on Shabbat and of entertainment venues on Friday evenings”
Shai Pauzner, Calcliast
Geocartography knowledge Group reveals that solving ultra-Orthodox population's housing problem would require construction of 4,000 new apartments a year. At the moment, more than 3,000 housing units are missing
A good hate campaign is usually premised precisely on this; scare-mongering. Someone is trying to take over. And heaven forbid, someone may even attempt to change the neighborhood’s character and bring down home prices. Did we already mention Arabs and Ethiopians?
It doesn’t smell good, doesn’t look good, and doesn’t sound good. In short, it’s not good. One cannot embark on a campaign of hatred, racism, and scare-mongering against people, even if they truly intend to buy as many homes as possible in your neighborhood and open education institutions to accommodate their children.
Moreover, we are not talking about the ultra-Orthodox, but rather, about Chabad-Lubavitchers. Yes, these annoying Hasidic Jews, these missionaries, these crazy people; the ones who don’t make do with being normal neighbors, but also attempt to convince people to lay tefillin and hand out books about the messiah. When we’re in Thailand or in India we certainly go into the local Chabad House in Passover, but when it comes to Ramat Aviv, let us live quietly and maintain our character.
So what can secular Jews who wish, just like religious and Orthodox communities and neighborhoods, to live their lives alongside people who are similar to them, without confrontations, disagreements, or fears of slippery slopes? How can they protect their tranquility and lifestyle without using some kind of anti-Semitic or racist propaganda?
The simple answer, to their and my regret, is that they cannot. There are no democratic, humanistic tools, which consider human dignity and freedom that can protect seculars when it comes to their natural desire for the very same things that the Orthodox and religious acquire through their own means: Closed-off communities, admission committees, shutting off streets on Saturdays, violence, boycotts, etc.
Choosing to be a Knesset member, or a Meretz voter, or just a regular secular person with humanistic values is difficult. It’s difficult because this choice has to be daily and you must adhere to the values which you yourself express so nicely - you cannot change these values only based on who bought an apartment next to you.
So despite all my understanding to the secular distress in Ramat Aviv and anywhere else, and I completely understand and sympathize with this distress, this campaign is unacceptable.
And on a cautious final note: There is only one way to win here: Demographic change.