A severe publicity campaign was waged against the chareidi community on Monday 13 Kislev by both the Right and the Left in the wake of the demonstration held last Sunday in Beit Shemesh to protest of the opening of pork stores throughout the city. The campaign was headed by Meretz MKs, but they were joined by Knesset members from the Likud.
During the demonstration held last Sunday, various speakers criticized the massive non-Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union, pointing to the fact that these immigrants have brought all the unsavory and un-Jewish aspects of their lifestyles to Eretz Hakodesh. Some speakers accused immigrants from the former Soviet Union of bringing "diseases" into the country and "flooding Beit Shemesh with abomination." In particular there were expressions of anguish and dismay over the opening of seven pork stores in Beit Shemesh. At the same time, the speakers praised and encouraged the Jewish immigrants who were saved from the formerly Communist countries, where they were forcibly severed from their religion for scores of years, and have now returned to their faith.
All sectors of the city, religious and secular, chareidim and traditional, Sephardic and Ashkenazic, were united at the rally in anger and pain over the fact that such a terrible breach has occurred in a city where most residents are mitzvah observant. Rabbonim of all the various communities as well as all of its roshei yeshiva and roshei kollel have sternly protested this serious breach. On 9 Kislev, a letter of protest was circulated. The letter was signed by gedolei Yisroel HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman and HaRav Shmuel Auerbach, as well as all of the city's rabbonim.
The criticism of the recent immigrants, more than half of whom are non-Jewish according to their own declarations, drew an onslaught of rebukes and criticism of the chareidi sector, including threats of violence. Especially blatant were Likud Knesset members Danny Naveh and Limor Livnat, who asked the Attorney General to issue an immediate order to investigate the incendiary remarks made in Beit Shemesh against the immigrant sector . . . that appear to constitute a felony.
The Likud issued an official condemnation saying: "The remarks made in Beit Shemesh constitute incitement and rabble rousing, and they create a rift in the State of Israel." MK Yisrael Katz even tabled an urgent proposal to raise this issue in the Knesset that very day.
Those who spoke at the rally refused to retract their statements, and reiterated that while Jewish immigration is very desirable, it is obvious to all that the non-Jews who have immigrated to Israel have brought with them abominable practices and behavioral patterns.
Chareidi public figures reacted to the incitement campaign against them, saying that it cannot sweep the serious problem of non-Jewish immigration under the rug. "This immigration has not has not only caused severe assimilation in Israel, but has also brought all of the tumah of the non-Jews to the land, one of the most conspicuous of these being the sale of pork in Beit Shemesh where most of the residents are religious and traditional and resolutely oppose the opening of such stores," they stated.
Shas leader Eli Yishai declared that the Law of Return should be tightened to prevent an influx of non-Jewish immigrants, who will threaten the Jewish nature of the state. The top priority, according to him, is the removal of the clause in the Law of Return which affords grandchildren of Jews the right to immigrate.
Chareidi leaders also stated: "The sharp reactions of secular public figures are motivated by the desire garner headlines and to uproot every spark of Torah and Yiddishkeit in Eretz Hakodesh. They are prepared to legitimize all the appalling practices those immigrants have brought with them and thereby destroy and undermine the traditional character of the land of Israel, especially that of the settlements and cities which have always been known for their outstanding religious character."
They said that the establishment is ignoring the persistent reports of the antisemitic campaigns waged by those non-Jews against the Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Only recently, a group of Jewish immigrants headed by Zalman Gilchinski, appealed to Minister Michael Melchior, saying that although he reacts sharply to every manifestation of antisemitism in the world at large, he totally ignores what is going on here in Israel.
"The Israeli press has long reported a shocking trend: antisemitism against the Jewish immigrants by the non-Jews who have arrived here along with them from the C.I.S.," they wrote. "Those Jews whose forebears were persecuted for generations have immigrated to Israel in order to find asylum, only to find that they are being harassed by antisemites from their country of origin."
The authors of the letter enclosed excerpts from a series of newspaper items in Hebrew and Russian, including photographs and interviews with elderly immigrants who described at length the behavior of the non-Jewish immigrants towards them, as well as samples of the antisemitic slogans these non- Jews used.
In his response, Melchior said: "I believe that the solution is to expand the educational system for the immigrants so that they will come to regard Jewish tradition favorably, and thus no longer display the antisemitic behavior described in the letter."
The immigrants sent an additional letter to Melchior, responding, "Instead of defending the persecuted, who were deceived when they were promised that in Israel they would find refuge from antisemitism, Minister Melchior proposes that persecutors be educated. Such an approach offends the honor of the Jewish immigrants, and is a cynical violation of all of their dreams and hopes."
The letter issued at the rally on Sunday states: "The city of Beit Shemesh has always been a city of religious people -- observers of tradition and believing Jews -- in whose hearts the spark of Yiddishkeit has remained deeply implanted since their childhood and for whom pork is disgusting and detestable. Is it inconceivable that tinokos shenishbu and the non-Jews who have now immigrated to Eretz Hakodesh should undermine all that is sacred to us and feed am Yisroel forbidden, abominable foods, thereby defiling our city."
Last Shabbos, prior to the Torah reading, rabbonim of all city synagogues read the protest declaration and asked everyone to participate in the rally.
The demonstration was held on Sunday, 12 Kislev, in the afternoon in the large square beside the Municipality. Tehillim were recited and the famous darshan, Rav Yehuda Yosefi, spoke to the large crowd. At the end of the rally, which was held with a police permit, shofars were sounded.
During recent days, UTJ representatives on the Municipal Council of Beit Shemesh, HaRav Moshe Abutbul, deputy mayor of the city; Rabbi Eliezer Greenbaum and Rabbi Avrohom Berger have been addressing the problem. However, their efforts have been unsuccessful due to the inattentiveness of top ranking Municipal officials.
Last week, representatives of the religious parties in Beit Shemesh met to discuss ways of closing the city's treif butcher shops. At the end of the meeting, it was decided that they would demand that the mayor propose a law prohibiting sale of pork in the city at the next Council meeting. Their letter, signed by one third of the members of the council, legally obligates the mayor to raise the issue at the Council plenum.