If you look at them from far away, the posters seem sort of quaint. Most of them appear cartoonish, with bright colors and, at least from a distance, plenty of humor.
They’ve been showing up on walls and stairwells in Haredi enclaves across Israel, from the hills of Beit Shemesh to the twisting neighborhoods of central Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, part of a contest for both adults and children. In sinister strokes of candy-colored caricature, they show the IDF rounding up Haredi children in order to force them into the military; or tranquil Haredi streets being forcefully cleansed of IDF-serving traitors.
“Keep this area clean!” one poster bellows in red ink, mimicking an oft-repeated slogan of kitchens and bathrooms across Israel. Above and below that line, however, it says, “For the sake of our future! For the sake of our children! … This area is free of Hardakim!”
“Hardakim” is a bastardized term for Haredim who join the army, coined from an acronym, Haredim kalei da’at, or “weak-minded Haredim.” It’s no coincidence that the term is strikingly close to the word “haydakim,” meaning bacteria or microbe – exactly the sorts of creepy crawlies that put cleanliness at stake.
This particular image shows a grinning buffoon of a soldier barreling through a stone wall in pursuit of a trio of terrified Haredi boys crying out for their mothers. In the top left corner, a knitted skullcap –- known across Israel as a symbol of the religious Zionist movement, or those Orthodox Israelis who integrate into modern society and willingly serve in the IDF -– morphs into a cockroach or some other ambiguous bug.
Flip the piece of paper over, and you will find this statement: “The goal: To destroy the Haredi character. The method: Conscription of Hardakim to the IDF and national service.”
With long hooked noses and clownish bodies on the IDF soldiers, angelic postures for Haredi children and themes of contamination versus cleanliness, the posters bear a disquieting resemblance to the Nazi propaganda that was plastered across the streets of Berlin and Munich in the years before World War II, critics say.
“They are intentionally trying to invoke Nazi symbolism,” says Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Weisenthal Center in Jerusalem. “That’s the way they attack Zionists and the rest of us, because they know that it hurts.”
Tensions over IDF enlistment have been simmering in the Haredi community since a High Court ruling last year that declared a long-standing exemption from conscription for ultra-Orthodox men to be unconstitutional. The Knesset is now scrambling to draft a proposal for the enlistment of all but 1,800 top Torah scholars each year, but the most extreme elements of the ultra-Orthodox community seem determined to resist the draft. The community has organized rallies and protest marches, its leaders have delivered sermons assailing the military and Haredi men who do enlist have been subject to taunts, threats and even violence on their return home.
These posters, however, strike a new level of macabre. Dubbed the “Hardakim Competition,” they came out of an email campaign in which the Haredi public was asked to submit its best anti-IDF drawings and illustrations via email.
Zuroff says they attest to extreme desperation. “What’s going on here is that the Haredi community feels, you know, severely threatened, and when you feel vulnerable you usually pull out the doomsday weapons,” he says. “And in Israeli society, the doomsday weapon almost always has to do with Shoah.”
At a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense subcommittee hearing on IDF personnel issues earlier this week, Brig.-Gen. Gadi Agmon said the anti-draft campaign in the Haredi press and in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods was reminiscent of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda vehicle “Der Stürmer.”
Agmon, who heads the IDF’s personnel planning division, said attacks on ultra-Orthodox soldiers “are a growing phenomenon,” calling it “an unprecedented, planned attack.”
Another poster screams “Hardakim out!” alongside the long, inky shadow of a foot kicking a few cartoonish soldiers off the page, while a third employs a starker color palette and shows a cockroach wearing a Haredi man’s black fedora and thinking to himself, “Enough! I’m already sick of carrying the burden of this black hat.”
On this poster, Hardakim are shoved into the ranks of Zionists, Reform Jews and a slew of obscure groups also considered turncoats to the Haredi community. At the bottom, in light-hearted script, it reads, “Hardakim: Shifting their identity in the army and national service.”
All of the posters bear in the top right corner the familiar Haredi inscription “bet-samech-daled,” routinely scribbled by ultra-Orthodox on all of their documents and which stands for “With the help of Heaven.”
According to chatter on several religious blogs, the cartoon campaign was started by a member of Neturei Karta, the vehemently anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox sect perhaps best known for its members’ support of both Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The funding for the project has reportedly come from wealthy Neturei Karta members in the ultra-Orthodox strongholds of both Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Monroe, NY.
MK Dov Lipman, himself an Orthodox Jew, said he has been working furiously to stem the Haredi tide of hatred toward the IDF, and insists that the posters and their sentiments can be traced back to a few fringe elements within the community. What concerns him, he said, is the lack of opposition.
“The contest is only supported by extreme groups,” he said via email. “At the same time, there is a silence from the ultra-Orthodox mainstream and there continues to be rhetoric of incitement from the ultra-Orthodox political parties and this is very disturbing.”
The imagery and language, Zuroff explains, comes from a panic among Haredim that their sons will enlist and, in doing so, shed all connection to religious life. The themes are echoed in a YouTube video that in hyper-simplistic animation shows a “before” and “after” scenario of peaceful Torah study giving way to drinking, kippah-shunning and full-fledged despondency.
“The fear is very simple,” Zuroff says. “They’re afraid that if the kids go into the army, then they will be exposed to the temptations of secular life, of wider society… There are two dangers: they could become hiloni [secular] and ditch everything, or join those who combine military service and halachic observance. Either one is a grave danger to the Haredi way of life.”
Ron Friedman contributed to this report.