JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli leaders criticized a haredi Orthodox demonstration in which protesters wore yellow stars to indicate that they are being oppressed like the Jews in Nazi Germany.
More than 1,000 haredi Orthodox protesters gathered in Jerusalem on Saturday night to protest what they described as persecution against their way of life, including separation of the sexes.
Many of the protesters wore yellow stars with the word "Jude" written on them, using Holocaust imagery to hammer home their point. Young haredi Orthodox children were brought to a makeshift stage wearing striped prison garb along with their yellow stars. One child held up his hands in an imitation of a famous image from the Warsaw Ghetto.
"Zionists are not Jews, they are racists," read one sign in English. Protesters also shouted "Nazis" at police securing the demonstration.
"Prisoner uniforms and yellow patches with the word ‘Jew’ written on them in German are shocking and appalling," said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a statement. "The use of yellow patches and small children raising their hands in surrender crosses a red line which the ultra-Orthodox leadership, who are largely responsible people, must not accept."
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said that "With all due respect to the right of groups in the haredi community to protest, and that is their elementary right, to put a yellow star on their children does serious injury to the memory of those killed in the Holocaust."
Eli Yishai of the haredi Orthodox Shas Party condemned the use of Holocaust symbolism. He added that while only a small minority of haredi Orthodox are involved in the controversial actions, there has been "incitement" against the entire haredi Orthodox community.
Condemnations also came from Holocaust survivor organizations.
"Holocaust survivors express their utter contempt at this disgraceful exploitation of these dramatic and tragic symbols of the brutal effort to destroy the Jewish people," Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement. "The Nazis made no distinction in their murderous treatment of our people — whether one was ultra-Orthodox, traditional or non-believer, you were marked for cruelty and death.
"We who survived and witnessed these Nazi crimes are particularly offended that demonstrators so blithely used children in this public outrage. They have insulted the memory of all the Jewish victims, including those who were ultra-Orthodox."
Avner Shalev, director of Yad Vashem, told Israel Radio on Sunday that he condemns "in the strongest possible manner the phenomenon of using symbols of the Holocaust. It is unacceptable. This comes from an extremist attitude and a clear desire to provoke."