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Fair enough. But why has there not also been a massive outpouring of indignation on the part of Israeli public figures, in particular those political and moral leaders who purport to promote civil and political rights for all of Israel’s citizens? And what about the Israeli politicians of all but the religious parties who regularly assure American and other Diaspora Jews of their commitment to religious pluralism?
Imagine their outrage if a Jew, any Jew, were arrested, let alone physically roughed up, for wearing a tallit and praying in public in, say, Russia, or Venezuela, or France, or Iran. Imagine the denunciations in the Knesset or on the part of the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations if a Jewish woman anywhere else in the world had been shackled, stripped, forcibly dragged across the floor, and left to lie on the floor of a prison cell covered by her tallit.
As a lifelong Zionist, as the son of a mother who survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, as a husband, as the father of a daughter, and as the grandfather of a granddaughter, I am repulsed at the thought that Israeli officials could treat a Jewish woman, or any woman for that matter, so atrociously and with such utter contempt.
Last December, ultra-Orthodox thugs spat on an eight-year-old schoolgirl in Beit Shemesh because they disapproved of the way she was dressed. The only significant difference between them and the Jerusalem police officials who shackled and mistreated Hoffman appears to be that the latter wear uniforms and cloak their reprehensible behavior under a veneer of legality.
In the context of anti-Semitic manifestations with which we are all too familiar, the image of a Jewish woman being humiliated and abused for being true to her religious beliefs and then being forced to cover herself with a tallit in a prison cell takes on nightmarish connotations of Kafkaesque dimensions.
Women who regularly wear a tallit during services in their Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist synagogues in the United States or in other countries in the Diaspora should not have to fear being arrested or otherwise manhandled for doing so when they wish to pray in Israel, including at the Western Wall.
If Israel is truly to be, in the Prophet Isaiah’s words, a light unto the nations, its political and intellectual leaders must now take the lead in unambiguously condemning the despicable way that Anat Hoffman was treated by the Jerusalem police and providing assurances to Jewish women the world over — and to their sons, their husbands, their fathers and their grandfathers — that no similar obscenities will be tolerated in the future.
Menachem Z. Rosensaft is vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. He teaches about the law of genocide and World War II war crimes trials at the law schools of Columbia, Cornell and Syracuse universities.