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Md. Suburb Nixes Beit Shemesh Partnership

Today, it’s Montgomery County; tomorrow, will it be something relevant?

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The world-famous fountain of downtown Bethesda.(Bethesda Patch)

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]

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The conditions in Beit Shemesh are shameful. The actions of the haredim give us all a bad name. But to pretend that the activists who worked to scuttle the Beit Shemesh/Montgomery County partnership actually care about women and aren’t just anti-Israel is an insult to our intelligence.

What is the Beit Shemesh’s replacement? Gondar, Ethiopia. Ethiopia, with its history of female genital mutilation. Ethiopia, towards the bottom of the UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index. Ethiopia, where according to a 2005 World Bank study, a majority of women believed their husbands had a right to beat them. Ethiopia, which according to Human Rights Watch’s 2012 World Report, engages in political repression, pretrial detention, torture, does not have a free press, and arrests political opposition members for meeting with human rights groups. That Ethiopia.

I continue to hope that Israeli authorities will step in to protect Israeli women from discrimination, but claiming that switching Montgomery County’s sister city from Beit Shemesh to Gondar is a win for women is absurd.

Wow-Let’s talk the pot calling the kettle black. Which country exactly has a national maternity and paternity leave law? Which country has free pre-school? Which country has women serving as combat soldiers? These are important issues for women not 2 or 3 bus lines that the sensation-seeking media has blown up in to an international crisis. I suggest that Bet Shemesh boycott Montgomery county over the huge wealth gap between the blacks in DC and the neighboring white residents in nearby counties.

brynababy says:

It’s JS and Carl that have my vote!!

Marc Breslaw says:

The tone of Mr. Tracy’s article and its headline in particular tells me that he is confusing his bias about the venue and manner in which he was reared with the significance of contesting this twinning with Beit Shemesh. Other periods of Jewish history have shown all to clearly what happens to us when we allow dichotomies to divide us. This contemporary incident underscores the alienation and drift of too many among the emerging generation of American and Diaspora Jews vis-a-vis Israel in particular and Jewish life in general. Of equal concern is the emotional and psychological distance that this dynamic can create among those of us who remain committed to a dynamic, relevant and contemporary Jewish life.

The push back on Beit Shemesh is not about the policies of the government of Israel; rather it is a human rights issue that challenges the interpretation and real life practice of the core beliefs of Judaism.

The rich variance and cultures of Jewish practice that have flourished among us in various places and times demonstrate that we are not confined to one way only to remain true to our heritage. Outrage in Montgomery County about the iconic image that Beit Shemesh is coming to represent underscores our obligation to challenge behaviors in the name of Judaism that we find intolerable under any other circumstance.

Selma Golub says:

My granddaughter spent the summer of 2011 in Beit Shemesh. Before serving her two years in the I.D.F., she and several friends tutored and befriended many of the Ethiopian children of Beit Shemesh and in doing so gave these children a wonderful time. I witnessed the comraderie between the Israeli volunteers and the children…it was heartwarming. I could not have been prouder of those young people.

Why punish these children by witholding funds that surely can be spent giving these youngsters a glimpse of what life can be like? Funds that the community in Maryland wants to dry up can buy books,sponsor health education and nutrition information for women and children alike.

Pressure instead should be put on the government who for so long has tolerated the depicable behavior of the Haredi community of Beit Shemesh.
To harass those whose way of life is alien to them should be a priority of the government in putting a stop to it.
What ever happened to “love thy neighbor” no matter what his religous affiliation, his politics and his way of life.? Surely there is room for everyone in Beit Shemesh and most importantly in all of Israel.

Selma Golub says:

Interesting. Comment #5 is mine.

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Md. Suburb Nixes Beit Shemesh Partnership

Today, it’s Montgomery County; tomorrow, will it be something relevant?

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