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The “Shabbat Wars”–to be continued?

June 29, 2009

ISRAEL-RELIGION/ It’s hard to imagine that a quarrel over a municipal parking lot could not only lead to blows, but could possibly drag the Prime Minister into getting involved. At least, that’s what a member of the Labor party called for on Sunday, says the Jerusalem Post. Now, police are investigating threats to the Jerusalem mayor’s life.

This is the aftermath of the latest battle in the ongoing “Shabbat Wars” between ultra-Orthodox Jews and Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat over opening a municipal parking lot on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath (See Reuters coverage of the big protests/rioting that happened Saturday here). Hundreds of ultra-orthodox Jews rioted against the opening, while around a thousand secular Israelis rallied on Saturday in support of the parking lot opening. Now a Jerusalem City Council representative is resigning over the issue, and the former police commander has condemned Barkat for “insisting on making the wrong decisions” (Read more here).


In spite of these ruffled feathers on the political scene, most of the coverage in the mainstream Israeli media has leaned towards supporting Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat’s decision to open a Saturday lot. See this op-ed from Hanuch Daom with Yedioth Ahronoth, which criticizes “the sane elements within the Orthodox community who do not dare to face up [their ultra-religious counterparts] and say: Enough.”

This Jerusalem Post blog entry by McGill History Professor, Gil Troy, takes up a similar vein, calling on religious Jews to take up the parking lot cause along with secular Jerusalemites: “Leaving the fight to so-called “secular” Israelis exacerbates tensions. Alternatively, if religious and non-religious Jews stood together in this struggle, even while agreeing to disagree on other issues, it would reduce Israel’s growing polarization, wherein a Right-Left divide on security increasingly parallels a religious-secular divide regarding lifestyle, philosophy, pluralism and tolerance.” Troy calls on Orthodox Jews in communities outside of Israel (such as New York, London, and Paris) to threaten to withhold financial support for their brethren in Jerusalem if they continue to participate in the parking lot rioting.

What will next Shabbat bring? A Jerusalem city council member quoted says that most citizens of Jeruselm, ultra-orthodox or not, understand the need for the parking lot: “We will not let extremists dictate the future of Jerusalem”. And the deputy mayor says he expects the protests to cool down. We’ll know next week for sure…

PHOTOS: Baz Ratner, Darren Whiteside. Reuters, Jerusalem, June 27, 2009.

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