Heroes of Israel: Meet Eli Bitan, an Ultra-Orthodox Journalist Who Lost His Job for Speaking Out
Bitan, 26, was fired from his job as an editor of “In the Ultra-Orthodox Rooms” website after an online storm about his speech supporting a vision of two states at the Tel Aviv Peace Now demonstration in May.
Bitan was raised in Ramat Beit Shemesh in an ultra-Orthodox family, studied in a Shas school, and later at a yeshiva in Bnei Brak. Bitan has stood his ground consistently about his pro-peace views.
“The ultra-Orthodox, contrary to what many people think in Israel, are a moderate group politically,” Bitan said in the speech at Rabin Square that cost him his job. “It’s true, it’s not the left of equality and human rights, but it is not a community that opposes a diplomatic process for the solution of two states. This has been proven at all the diplomatic crossroads that Israel has come to in history.”
Bitan’s speech received a lot of responses from different communities within Israel, and raised a storm among the ultra-Orthodox.
“On the one hand there are more than a few who are angry that I went to a left-wing demonstration,” Bitan said.
“But on the other hand I hear more and more ultra-Orthodox people who support the things that were said and the speech that I gave. They are part of a growing trend of young ultra-Orthodox leftists. The responses that most excite me are the ones of right-wing ultra-Orthodox who say ‘Maybe we don’t agree with him but the time has come for young ultra-Orthodox to take part in the struggles central to Israel.”
Bitan went to his first peace demonstration when he was a 17-year-old yeshiva student. “I stood then alone with a white t-shirt and a black kippa. And even now there were a few dozen ultra-Orthodox in Rabin Square, but it’s still not enough,” Bitan said.
“There are hundreds of thousands more ultra-Orthodox youngsters who go out into Israeli society and see the heavy price that they pay for a political alliance with the right. Our role is to make them feel comfortable, to cooperate between the struggles, not to let the differences make us forget that we are all living on this land, and [to remember] that ending the occupation is a mission for all of us, for all of those who live here.”