An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man steps onto a plane and learns that the passenger to be seated next to him, who has not yet arrived, is female. Quietly he asks neighboring passengers if he might change seats with any of them, since his religion forbids him from sitting next to a woman. His female seatmate arrives to witness each neighbor systematically telling the man no. Finally, a young woman acquiesces. She is promptly scolded for giving in.
Who scolded her? The female seatmate from whom the Jewish man was trying to distance himself. Her name is Jo-Ann Mort, author of a recent Haaretz.com opinion piece titled, “Why I Refused to Give Up My Seat for a Haredi Man.”
Why did Mort scold the young lady? For civil rights, of course.
Hyper-Victimization Creates Imaginary Villains and Heroes
At issue here is not whether Mort and her fellow airline passengers were morally obligated to accommodate the Haredi man’s request, nor whether they had the legal right to refuse him. Clearly they did have this right, for they invariably exercised it, even if Mort takes every chance to defend it from imaginary attackers.
But of great concern should be Mort’s self-righteous bigotry, cloaked in a Technicolor dreamcoat of hyper-victimization. Mort’s rationale for interpreting her experience as suffering supports all the weight of a hologram. Nevertheless, she artfully positions herself as the flag-bearer for “suppressed” non-Haredi Jews and democracy at large.
The suppressive persons she has in mind are aspiring tyrants, such as the Haredi man and other likeminded zealots—meaning folks who prefer not to abandon their firmly rooted view of God every time they go out in public.
The injustices Mort and her fellow flyers allegedly endured at the hands of countless “Haredi politicians and rabbis,” all embodied by this one passenger, are almost too terrible to tell. Picture it: Did you know he was clutching a half-torn prayer sheet during this exchange? Did you know that after one passenger declined to swap seats, he actually tried asking a different passenger? Stars, hide your fires.
The Real Threat to Civil Society: Intolerant Tolerance
The real threat here to civil society, and to the “democratic values” that Mort purports to cherish, comes not from the Haredi man but from Mort herself—specifically her alacrity to construe another’s right to ask people to do him a solid as a full-frontal assault upon her own rights. She is an eager patriot in the ranks of those who would transmogrify that once-meaningful word tolerance into its antonym.
All this for democracy and her fellow man (except the one in front of her). Contradiction is clean fuel for the machinery of intolerant tolerance. Mort’s story is full of it. For instance, how the “quiet ask” of a “bewildered person” qualifies as “interfering with [Mort’s] rights,” or as her “being harassed,” or as the “ultra-Orthodox community’s efforts to impose their will on the entire state of Israel” is anyone’s guess.
So is how the man’s request evolves, in the course of Mort’s account, into a “demand on this public space,” and a “usurpation of public spaces.” (Turkish Airlines, in case you’re wondering, once belonged to the state but is now a publicly traded company with only 49 percent of shares held by the government, according to the latest readily available report.)
At least Mort is conscious that the “vitriol” her army of passengers exuded must baffle a few readers. Thus, after eviscerating the Haredi man, Mort graciously reprieves him by widening her aim—excusing herself in the process:
We, the non-Haredi Jews, feel so suppressed that we end up finding ourselves demanding even the tiniest ounce of power against the Haredi control over so much of Jewish life in Israel by yelling at a quivering Haredi man on a plane.
Apparently, there is nothing left to do (certainly not show charity toward the quivering man) except redirect wrath toward the broader Haredi community, by “simply asking that they stop interfering with my rights.” (By now, see, we have nearly forgotten that at the beginning of her story, Mort had proceeded to her seat unmolested, and that the Haredi man never asked her personally for anything.)
None of this misremembering and hyper-victimization is Mort’s fault. This is just how intolerant tolerance works among free peoples, especially when democracy is under attack, or when bewildered Jews stand quivering in the aisle.