In an interview hosted on Monday night on Kan 11, veteran television presenter Yaron London discussed the disaster that occurred in Meron just days earlier, and unabashedly admitted that he is not especially distressed at what happened.
Forty-five people died in a horrific crowd crush during the Lag Ba’omer festivities in the early hours of Friday morning, and at least 150 more were injured. The event attracts hundreds of thousands of mostly religious Jews each year, and the reasons why this year, it ended in tragedy, are currently being investigated.
Amid an outpouring of sympathy and shared sorrow from across the religious spectrum, London said that, “The mourning over the victims of the Meron tragedy has nothing to do with me, because we’re not members of the same people.”
He added that, “When you watch the documentation and zoom in closer to the screen to see a woman crying, it touches you, but you simply don’t identify with the haredim in general, because they’re not part of your people. To me, they’re like victims of a tsunami in Java. I feel a certain sense of pain at their distress as, after all, they are human beings, but I don’t feel any sense of collective identification with them.”
London was then asked if he despises haredim, which he denied. “I don’t despise them at all. It’s just that my feelings regarding them are the same as those I’d feel toward tsunami victims in Asia. It’s like the way Europeans view the Chinese. This is a group that shuns individualism, and there is something nice about that. But when you look at the haredim, they just aren’t part of the same people. For me, this is like a tragedy that happened in China.”
And London added that, “You have to be very courageous to make such a statement out loud.”
The background to this interview was a post written by London in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy on his Facebook page, in which he wrote: “I just found out about the tragedy this morning and my response was: 'I told you so!' This was my response – one of condescension and satisfaction. That’s how I relate to the haredim – as a mature adult reprimanding a delinquent youth who drives like a madman and crashes his car into a wall. And I was angry, too.”
London added that, “I expressed a measure of distress out of politeness – I basically felt the same way as I did when 2,411 people were crushed to death while on their pilgrimage to Mecca, in September ’15. I tried to internalize the distress, to breathe it in, to make it personal and authentic, but it just didn’t happen. Meanwhile, when I think about the tragedy and the victims, I feel much the same as I would about victims of a tsunami in Indonesia – that is to say, virtually nothing.”
In response to London’s words, MK Moshe Gafni, head of the haredi UTJ party, said: “[The Torah teaches us] that Jews are ‘merciful, humble, and open-hearted.’ Since he does not appear to have any of these attributes, it might be a good idea to check up if London really is Jewish.”
Transportation Minister Miri Regev (Likud) added that, “Yaron London has proven yet again that there are those Jews who refuse to accept the existence of different cultures and traditions within the Jewish People. Such words seek to divide us, but he will not succeed.”
And MK Yaakov Asher (UTJ) noted that, “At a time when the entire country is uniting in mourning the victims of this disaster, religious and secular alike, non-Jews as well as Jews, a veteran journalist is trying to garner attention with disgusting statements such as these. Yaron, maybe you should be in London, and not in the Land of Israel.”
London’s words were also condemned by members of the general public, not just the religious sectors, with, for example, Ariana Melamed of the left-wing Haaretz newspaper writing, “Yaron London is a despicable piece of garbage. Anyone who cares about other human beings is pained at these unnecessary deaths, no matter who the victims were. He should be gagged – that’s what he deserves.”