Last week, Alex Kushnir, a Knesset member from the secularist Yisrael Beytenu party, released a campaign video in which he complained that the government-run insurance program covers physical exams sometimes requested by Orthodox women for religious purposes. These exams, according to Kushnir, are performed “at the expense of the health budget, at the expense of those same people who are lying in the halls of hospitals, at the expense of those waiting months for medical tests, at the expense of those who are waiting to get a flu shot.” To the editors of the Jerusalem Post, Kushnir’s “crass” and “ugly” rhetoric should have no place in Israeli public discourse:
In other words, [Kushnir is insinuating that] the Ḥaredim . . . are to blame for the collapse of the entire health system. If only this minuscule fraction of the budget were not spent providing a religious service to the few women who seek it, Kushnir claims, then all of the country’s sick would have comfortable hospital beds, it would not take months to wait for an MRI, and there would be no shortage of flu shots in the land.
Kushnir then takes this example to absurd extremes, and asks what’s next—colonoscopies to ensure that people eat kosher food, random checks on the street to see if men have been circumcised? What makes the video even more distasteful is an illustration of a hideous looking woman with her arms outstretched saying to a rabbi, “Check me. I am pure now.”
It’s election season in Israel—again. And one of the many ills of yet another round of political campaigning is that we will now have three more months of politicians sowing division in their search for voters. We will have three more months of politicians who believe that the only way they can build up themselves or their party is by disparaging others. And the two most popular targets to demonize are Israeli Arabs and the Ḥaredim.
Israel, which needs a modicum of solidarity to face its enormous challenges, cannot afford a situation where one segment of the population demonizes another—even during an election campaign.