Double standard democracy
Lire cet article en français "Démocratie à deux vitesses"
I wrote this as an open-letter to the editor for the Outremont Express (April 4, 2012).
I and many of my Hassidic family members and friends were disturbed and saddened by the uncivil behaviour a very few individuals displayed during an incident with Borough Councillor Celine Forget on our Purim holiday last March 8. No one should be subject to such behaviour and people who truly know Hassidim know that such conduct is not representative of our values or our community.
At the same time, I am equally disturbed at the “spin” this incident has received where this brief video is being branded to lynch an entire community for the actions of but a few, through guilt by association, simply because it is easier to do so. Can you imagine what backlash would have followed if local media had summarily generalized such actions to be those of an entire ethnic community other than Hassidim? Any intellectually honest person knows that any such generalization would have been condemned. Somehow for Hassidim in Outremont it is acceptable to do so.
I also find it unfair and ironic that Mme Forget has since portrayed herself as the innocent “victim” in the unfortunate incident, when it is impossible for her to deny her incendiary role in creating the tension that led to the unfortunate conduct. Again, let me be clear – she should not have been subject to such behaviour – but looking at this situation as a whole, how can she have the chutzpah to claim that she bears no responsibility in this situation. She claims that she was unobtrusively documenting compliance with the law. But eyewitnesses have attested to the fact that she violated the space of a private car, sticking a camera through its window. When the driver exited his vehicle and decided to make a photographic record himself of what she was doing, she slapped him, initiating the fracas. That is why Mme Forget was taken away by police for questioning, and why the individual attacked by Mme Forget has in fact pressed charges against her. For some strange reason this has not been reported with the same vigour the video has.
Some of our neighbours have written to the Outremont Express to express their conclusion from a short video posted on YouTube that our community receives special treatment by the police and law enforcement officials; others cynically accuse us of “driving intoxicated” and “oppressing women”.
All open-minded residents of Montreal would do well to ponder the fact that the Hassidic Jewish community has been peacefully living in Outremont for over 60 years, long before Mme Forget and most of her colleagues where even born, and there has never been such a public demonstration of disrespect. Why? This question has yet to have been asked.
The big picture being ignored
Anyone who reads her blog (and that of her associate Mr. Pierre Lacerte) or attends monthly Borough Council meetings can attest that she has made it her mission to target Hassidim in Outremont. For over a decade, Mme Forget and Pierre Lacerte have dedicated their lives to cultivating an atmosphere of animosity and intolerance towards our community. Through the spread of half truths and the dissemination of disinformation, they have, unfortunately, made great strides.
First, by contemporary “witch-hunting” – showing up and snapping away with cameras at our family gatherings, community events and schools (yes, even our children’s privacy is invaded by these “public servants”), they claim to be preserving the public welfare, when in fact they are seeking only to implicate us in technical violations of every minor misdemeanour possible.
Then, by constantly pushing for, and enacting by-laws, and drafting zoning laws, they reveal their intention of stifling and repressing our community’s way of life. Lawfulness is not on their minds. She may try and couch her words as “upholding the law” and “enforcing regulations” but the naked truth is that she is applying a double standard by using her zeal and time to focus exclusively on the Hassidic community in Outremont. Her politics of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ will only cause an exacerbation of tensions.
Can you imagine an elected official of any other Borough in the City of Montreal spending their time taking pictures of individuals’ homes, businesses, and community organizations and reporting them to the Police and municipals services? Is Celine Forget the kind of politician that Outremont residents believe will be able to work to resolve differences and foster a constructive dialogue?
Where is the democracy?
How can it be that in a major North American city, laws of a sort that are not considered by other cities are brazenly enacted to disrupt a peaceful minority’s way of life?
It is not a question of special “accommodation” of the Hassidic community. We Orthodox Jews make up a 5th of Outremont’s population. Do we remain outsiders who need to be tolerated and accommodated? Does democracy govern us, or prejudice? We are a part of Outremont and Outremont is a part of us!
Yes there are valid issues, as there are in many cities, concerning traffic, noise and celebrations. That though is a challenge to be met with good will and by working together. If all of us can approach such issues with open minds and in and honest dialogue with one another, they can be worked out. But letting a few bitter individuals parley issues into ill will is destroying our beautiful city.
Setting the record straight
And just to set the record straight, let me address some allegations levered against our community.
Hassidim oppress women
I invite anyone to come into our homes, synagogues and schools to see how indeed our community honours its girls and women. Separation of the sexes, which is routine in Hassidic communities, may seem backward to some, but it does not bespeak any lack of respect for either men or women. and see for yourself how our women and girls are cherished honoured and respected sometimes even more than males.
And so, the sneerings of people like Pierre Deslandes (who, in his letter “Democracy in Hostage”, Outremont Express, Mar 21, and tried to portray the recent incident as an attack on “women’s rights”) are fuelled only by misinformation and hatred. He seems to have missed the Hassidic woman in the video alongside the men, registering her own chagrin to Mme Forget.
I and others in the community have decided that we are not willing to let the current situation continue. In order to cultivate a more respectful and open understanding of one another, we are starting a website where we can have an open dialogue with others and, hopefully, dispel some myths discuss some issues that have been causing friction. (We will try to be as much bi-lingual as possible).
I would like to invite our neighbours of Outremont to put aside all differences and join us at www.outremonthassid.com
An Outremont HassidFollow @OutremontHassid