January 2nd, 2012
12:50 PM ET
Jerusalem (CNN) - Israeli political and religious leaders are condemning a weekend protest here in which ultra-Orthodox Jews used symbols identified with the Holocaust to allege they are being unfairly treated by other Israeli Jews over their beliefs.
Ongoing religious tensions in Israel reached new heights Saturday when a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews marched in concentration camp uniforms and donned yellow Stars of David, which Jews were forced to wear in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Demonstrating against what they viewed as incitement against the ultra-Orthodox in Israeli media, about 1,000 ultra-Orthodox men marched through the streets of their neighborhood.
The chairman of Yad Vashem, Jerusalem’s Holocaust museum and memorial, criticized protesters for making what he said was a “false comparison between the reality today to the Holocaust."
“There is no place for this behavior, which hurts Holocaust survivors and causes the cheapening of the memory of the Holocaust,” Yad Vashem's Avner Shalev said in a statement Sunday.
“We are speaking about a handful of extremists. … It is important that the memory of the Holocaust will be a uniting factor in Israeli society and not the opposite.”
Many Israeli politicians also criticized the demonstrators.
“Cynically using the characteristics of what was the attempt to exterminate our nation is one thing we simply cannot accept,” said Cabinet member and Holocaust survivor Yossi Peled. “I am willing to take part in every argument within the Israeli society, but some things are taboo.”
Peled told CNN, “Dressing up children with the yellow ribbons with their hands up in the air, re-enacting pictures of children from the ghetto, is simply inconceivable. Six million Jews, including 1 1/2 million children, cannot be used as a tool in a public debate.”
One irate member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, called on Israel's attorney general to look into pressing charges against those responsible for the Holocaust garb.
“My grandfather and father were in ghettos, and there is no connection between what happened in the Holocaust to the Jewish people and the status of the Haredi in Israel,” Knesset member Marina Solodkin told the Israeli newspaper Maariv, using the Hebrew term for ultra-Orthodox.
“Anyone who used the symbols of the Holocaust last night for the sake of a demonstration trampled the dignity of the hundreds of thousands of survivors who still live in our midst and the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.”
Saturday night’s rally came in response to a high-profile public campaign against gender discrimination in utra-Orthodox communities and followed a prime-time television report of a young Israeli girl harassed on her way to school for not being dressed according to the strict rules of the community.
The broadcast sparked a wave of criticism and prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak out against the segregation of women, referring to it as “an unacceptable phenomenon that goes against the values of Judaism and democracy.”
Some at the rally held up signs that read “Zionists are not Jews, they are racists” and “We will remain loyal to the laws of the holy Torah.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a U.S.-based Jewish group, called on religious authorities to declare the demonstrators' use of Holocaust symbols a desecration of God’s name.
The use of the symbols dishonors "the memory of the 6 million Jewish martyrs of the Shoah and brings shame on the very community that this protest was supposed to defend,” the center said in a statement, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.
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