In light of the recent violence on the part of chareidim in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, and elsewhere in Israel, many people have pointed out that these acts are carried out by a very small group of people and that almost all chareidim oppose such behavior. In most cases, this point was raised in the context of attempts to absolve the greater chareidi community in Israel of any responsibility for the growing tension between the chareidim and the non-chareidi population.
I have no doubt that these people are correct with regard to the percentage of chareidim that support such acts. However, the attribution of all responsibility to the lunatic fringe of chareidi society masks the role played by "moderate" chareidim in the widening rift in Israeli society.
There is no question that the chareidi population of Israel is extremely heterogeneous. I would estimate that no more than 5% of chareidim would ever engage in the kind of violence we are witnessing or express any kind of support for such actions.
At the other end of the chareidi spectrum, there is probably about another 5% who contribute to Israeli society no less (and in many cases, more) than the average chiloni or dati-leumi Israeli. These people serve in the army, work to support themselves, and pay their fair share of taxes.
When you take away these two groups at the edges of chareidi society in Israel, you are left with the ninety percent that the title of this post refers to. It is important to realize that it is this group that is most responsible for the way that Israelis view chareidim. Ironically, it is the behavior of this ninety percent (and not the antics of the relatively small group of violent wackos) that has led most Israelis to develop a hatred for the chareidi population.
On the surface of it, the ninety percent are ordinary law-abiding citizens, and like everyone else, are just trying to live their lives without forcing their lifestyle on anyone else. You will not notice anything different about their behavior when they are behind you in line at the supermarket or in the car next to you at a red light.
So what's the catch?
Well, the ninety percent basically hold a set of beliefs that can best be summed up as follows: They believe that chareidim are somehow special, and as such, they should be entitled to benefits not given to the average Israeli and they should not have to shoulder their load when it comes to the duties of the Israeli citizen.
Specifically, they believe that:
It is legitimate for men to learn in yeshivot instead of serving in the army, and to remain yeshivah students until they are at an age when the army no longer wants them.
It is legitimate for married men with children to learn in yeshivot and live off government subsidies instead of working to support their families.
Chareidim should pay significantly less when it comes to taxes, such as municipal taxes, because they have chosen to have very large families.
Chareidim are entitled to cheaper housing than the non-chareidi citizens of Israel.
If these were only beliefs, it wouldn't be a big deal. After all, in a democratic society, people can believe whatever they want. However, the ninety percent act on these beliefs every day through the chareidi parties in the Knesset, who consider their primary responsibility to be the securing of special privileges for the chareidi population. This ensures that these beliefs are translated into government policy.
Obviously, I did not conduct a scientific survey before writing this post. So it's very possible that the ninety percent are actually only eighty percent or even seventy percent. However, it really doesn't matter. Based on the strength of the chareidi parties in the Knesset, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of chareidim subscribe to the idea that the chareidi population deserves preferential treatment.
So the ninety percent may not engage in violence and would never consider supporting such acts, but through the actions of their representatives in the Knesset, they are engaging daily in behavior that most Israelis consider repulsive.
An increasing number of chareidim are opposed to the idea that their religious practices should entitle them to special privileges and exempt them from the duties of the average Israeli citizen. However, at this point, these people are only a drop in the bucket.
It would be nice if the police and courts took the steps necessary to stop chareidi violence. However, this is not going to eliminate the tension between the chareidi and non-chareidi populations in Israel, nor significantly reduce the contempt that the latter have for chareidim. That will happen only when the chareidi population accepts the premise that they should be treated the same as all other citizens of Israel, with no special privileges.