Montgomery County, Maryland, which lies along the Potomac River on the northwest and much of the northeast border of Washington, D.C., was nearly all set to sign an agreement that would have made Beit Shemesh, Israel, its second “sister city” (its first is in El Salvador). But before the agreement went through, the incidents of ultra-Orthodox discrimination and harassment of women in Beit Shemesh surfaced, and now there is a heated debate among Montgomery County policymakers and activists—mostly Jewish, of course—over whether to nix the (largely symbolic) partnership.
It’s notable that Montgomery is, percentage-wise, the United States’ 15th most Jewish county (at 9.1 percent). Also notable is that it went 72 to 27 percent for President Obama over John McCain in 2008. This is your classic affluent, significantly (but not totally and not even majority-) white, disproportionately Jewish liberal suburb; it is, literally, the “Paradise” of David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise. It’s also where I spent my childhood.
My friend David Klion—another former MoCo kid—notes that it took outrageous discrimination against Jewish women to raise the hackles even of liberal Montgomery County: Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, by contrast, was not at all seen as an obstacle to sister-city status. (He thinks it should have been. I don’t.) This is one more reason why it was so anguishing to watch the drama in Beit Shemesh: particularly when it is fighting an oppressive, theocratic regime, the last thing Israel needs is to present itself to the world as overrun by intolerant religiosity. Today it is just a fakarkte “sister-city” deal gone sour. Tomorrow, the increased power and prevalence of Haredim in Israeli society could lead to real problems for the Jewish state.
Montgomery Delays Israeli Sister-City Partnership Following Ultra-Orthodox Controversy [WP]
Related: Poster Child [Tablet Magazine]
Israel’s Siege Mentality [David Klion]