Several years ago when Shinui won 15 seats in the general Knesset election the religious community in Israel was up in arms, and for good reason. Here was a party that had run on a single issue - hatred of religious Jews - and done so well that it qualified for seats at the cabinet table. Had Tommy Lapid had a platform advocated hatred against any other identifiable group in the state, he would have been denounced as a hate-monger and racist. Instead, because he chose the Chareidim as his target he was lionized and given favourable national attention.
What the Chareidi community never seemed to understand, however, was that Lapid's electoral success was entirely due to their efforts. Never ones to be good with hasbara, decades of religious coercion and government blackmail had turned off enough Israelis to allow the single-idea Shinui to gather a significant Knesset caucus.
The realization didn't hit after either. I'm not aware of any major Chareidi source that called for community soul-searching after Shinui's success. While many were happy to smear Lapid and his followers, no one took a step back and asked "how did we contribute to this mess?" Instead more of the behaviour that Lapid capitalized on followed, vindicating his views in the eyes of many.
Shinui is history now, of course. One cannot run a party with a platform that simply consists of advocating hatred for 10% of the population of the country, no matter how strong the endorsement of the media and "enlightened society". Once Shinui got dirty with politics and turned into just another political party, it quickly lost its appeal with the electorate and began its spiral into oblivion.
However, with recent events in the news it seems that the time is now right for another Tommy Lapid to emerge. Consider events in the last few months:
1) Riots in Meah Shearim to protect a mother convicted of abusing his child until he reached death's door
2) Riots over a parking lot in Yerushalayim
3) Riots over Intel keeping its plants open on Shabbos
4) Attacks on the State and other non-Chareidi religious Jews and their beliefs
5) Theft from the secular state that pays billions of shekels to them.
Imagine you're an average chiloni who likes to watch the news every evening after work. You live in a secular neighbourhood. Your friends and family are all secular. All you know about religious Jews is what you see when you flick on the TV at night. And what do you see? Riots. Burning garbage cans. Attacks on police. Chants of "Nazi, nazi". What conclusions could you quickly draw about this particular group?
Now there are those who rightly point out that when it comes to reporting the news there are inherent biases we must all beware of. When it comes to reporting about Israel in general, the world media likes to focus on the negatives on the Israeli side and ignore the atrocities committed by our enemies. Similarly, it is no secret that the Israeli media has no heistation to print bad news from the Chareidi community and studiously ignore any examples of Chareidim functioning positively in society since that might detract from the message that they are trying to get across, that all Chareidi are evil parasites who threaten the secular fabric of the state. And these people have a point. No thinking person believes what CNN or the BBC have to say about the Israeli-Arab situation. We know they're distorting the facts or simply lying about that. Why is it when it comes to the Chareidim that we suddenly trust this same press?
The answer, unfortunately, is simple: too many elements within the Chareidi community are quite happy and willing to provide anti-religious journalists with enough grist for a thousand mills. Want to run a story about Chareidim behaving badly? You'll find more than enough of them willing to oblige. Never mind the quiet majority that doesn't get involved. Never mind the honest, hard working ones. These self appointed community representatives will make sure the aforementioned chiloni watching the TV news at night has enough to shout about the next day at work. Once again, they are doing it to themselves. And all the apologetics by Pinchas Lipschutz and Rav Avi Shafran can't change what people see with their own eyes.
For now the backlash is limited to protests by both the non-religious and the moderate religious crowds. This cannot last forever. There are votes to be garnered by unscrupulous politicians willing to do with the Chareidim what fascist and communist politicians used to do with the Jewish community in general once upon a time in Europe. Unfortunately, it looks like too many Chareidim are eager to help them.