Monday, December 19, 2011

YNET and the Female Reporter on Bus

YNET doesn't allow facts to get in the way of a good story especially when it comes to their favourite sport, that is Chareidi bashing!
This morning there was an article in YNET entitled:
"I won’t sit at the back of the bus
Ynet special: Tanya Rosenblit recounts clash of civilizations she experienced on Israeli bus; ‘until yesterday, I was sure that I live in a free country,’ she says "
Clash of civilisations? The writer without subtlety uses the same language that we would associate with Islamists who commit mass murder and force their women to cover their bodies in black tents. From the off, you know where this is going.
YNET descibes Tanya Rosenblit "as a student" who innocently happened to board an Egged bus that runs through a Chareidi neighbourhood and sat behind the bus driver in order to ask directions. She was sitting there, quietly minding her own business, when a spontaneous crowd of men speaking in Yiddish formed around the bus…
“…I was a little scared at that point. Nobody bothered to turn to me and ask me to do what seemed so logical to them – for me to move to the back. They made do with pointing at me, calling me names, and expressing outrage over Egged’s failure to safeguard their rights. I must admit I still don’t understand what these rights are.”
In her article, Tanya asks why these men don’t obey the Talmudic statement of Derech Eretz Kadma LaTorah (proper behavior comes before the Torah.)”?
The bus driver asked her to move to the rear. She refused. The situation became so tense that the driver called the police. The policeman asked her to move to the back. When she repeatedly refused, the policeman instructed the driver to go, leaving her where she was sitting. Those who wanted to board the bus could, those that didn’t could wait for the next bus.
She finishes her article with:
“We must not allow one pressure group or another to overrun the unique voice of any one of us. Freedom is not a curse word; everyone aspires for it in every society and in any situation. If we give up the stigmas and approach the person who hides behind the words “haredim” or “seculars” we can produce genuine dialogue and possibly minimize the gap between us.”
Any normal person reading this account would feel genuine sympathy for her or even admiration. Some have even called her a “hero”.
I am personally against Egged sex segregated buses
Let me state from the outset that I am personally against Egged, Israel’s public bus company, agreeing to sex segregated buses. If the Chareidi community wish to organise private coaches and arrange with consent of both the men and women to segregated seating then gezinterhait, fine! However the public bus system should not agree to impose such restrictions. If I were traveling on an intercity Egged bus with my wife or daughter then I'd certainly like to sit next to them. There is, as far as I understand, no halachic precedent for such a chumra (stringency).
It could be the case that Egged bus passengers on buses that run through Chareidi neighbourhoods will, on their own volition, organise themselves so that women sit at the back but it should be made clear that, being that this is a public and not a chartered coach, if a female passenger gets on and for whatever reason, wishes to sit at the front of the bus then no one has the right to complain. I would consider it appropriate for someone, who would have to be a woman, to politely and with respect explain what the practice (by common agreement) on these buses is but if the female passenger nevertheless refuses to comply with the request, they should be left alone and not harassed.
While traveling on Egged buses I have experienced a few related but not exact same cases as this one.
The Couple on the Bus
One such incident took place some 15 years ago whilst I was traveling on the bus to the Kosel (The Western Wall plaza) where the vast majority of passengers were religious.

Egged Bus to the Kosel

There was a young American couple, either in their late teens or early twenties on the bus, sitting together and showing open affection to the point where it would have been considered embarrassing to other passengers, even on the top deck of a Double Decker in London.
He was wearing a kippah but both were very scantily dressed in frayed denim shorts and torn t-shirts (which was at that time the current fashion statement).

Upper Deck on a London Bus

I would imagine that had this incident happened on a London bus then passengers would have stared disapprovingly whilst the couple were not looking, quickly turning away when they thought that they were, and giving others knowing looks but would almost certainly have kept quiet. However this is Israel! Within a few minutes some four or five men and women started shouting at them and pointing at them in an aggressive manner, from what I could understand, they were demanding that the couple get off the bus.
The young couple became noticeably distressed at the attention they were receiving and were completely clueless as to what had caused it, not understanding any Hebrew at all. I pushed my way through the crowded bus to their seat and stood over them and proceeded to explain to them what was happening. They actually seemed embarrassed if not a little scared and confused. The girl took a shawl from her bag and wrapped it around herself. I then turned to the crowd and said to them in a firm but friendly voice to “Leave them alone, they are tourists, Jews estranged from Judaism and in any case, they don’t understand what you are saying to them”. To my amazement, the crowd calmed down and many looked away. I had half expected them to start screaming at me but Baruch Hashem, this did not happen.
I got talking to the couple who said that they were on an Israel trip organised by their Reform Temple. I said to them that when they got to the Western Wall, to look out for Outreach guys in the men’s section and women doing the same thing in the women’s section, who could find them, if they wanted,  places for Shabbat so that they could experience a real Jewish old City Shabbat. “Free?” they asked me. I assured them that yes, it was free and added that they should use the opportunity to ask as many questions as they wanted about Judaism and assured them that they’d have a great time.
I don’t know if they found a kiruv worker but I’d like to believe that they did and today are living blissfully in the Rova (the Jewish quarter of the Old city) with 8 kids. Who knows?
Getting back to the YNET article, it is a personal account of events by this woman. However I found another, very different account of the same incident in the Chareidi Internet site

Tanya Rosenblit it appears is a freelance reporter, apparently on special assignment for YNET. She boarded a special “LeMahedrin” bus traveling from Ashdod to Yerushalayim, where the arrangement is, by agreement of the overwhelming majority of passengers on those lines, for segregation of the sexes. Men at the front, women at the back. This directly contradicts Tanya’s account in YNET where she writes that it was an ordinary regular Egged bus and she just happened to find herself there.
She entered the bus and sat on the outside of a two passenger seat next to the driver and waited to see what would happen. When passengers passed her by without incident she decided to use some provocation tactics and began to sing in a loud voice and (intentionally leaning out of her seat) nudge male passengers with her elbow as they got on the bus.
Eye witnesses state that both men and women attempted to persuade her gently, in a friendly manner to stop the provocation and move to the rear of the bus with the other women. They said that they attempted to talk to her “Jew to Jew” but to no avail. The woman reporter screamed that if she wasn’t allowed to sit at the front then she’d undress on the bus and then proceeded to play with the buttons of her blouse.
At this, many passengers got off the bus and formed a crowd around it. The bus driver quite rightly called the police who, according to the Chareidi report acted in a polite and fair manner eventually deciding that despite the reporter’s obvious provocation, she had a right to sit where she wanted. Those who wanted to get on the bus did and those who didn’t had to wait for the next bus.

In my opinion, the policeman was the hero in this story who proved that the conclusion reached in the Israeli press is wrong. We are not living in a repressive society here in Israel because the outcome of the story was that the Policeman, despite being told by numerous witnesses of her provocation, did not throw her off the bus but upheld her legal and civil rights. I would say that it proves exactly the opposite of what the Israeli media claims.
If even half the account as related in is true then it seems that Tanya cynically provoked and exploited this confrontation to create something news worthy and her request for dialog and understanding at the end of her article is purely fallacious by design.
Her article was written intentionally to provoke exactly the opposite reaction from her readers in YNET. Not dialog but hatred. Anyone reading her article will conclude that the Chareidim are primitive, sheep like, evil and stupid at the same time and pose the greatest danger to the State of Israel.
She will go far in her career at YNET.