Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Collective Punishment in Religious Jerusalem Neighborhoods?
Much ink has been spilled about the riots of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews in Jerusalem over the past several weeks (See our article on that here). Among some sources, there’s a note of disdain for this sector of Jewish population, seen as being contemptuous of the state of Israel while making up the largest portion of the country’s welfare recipients.
So I was a bit surprised to see one group rise to defend the Haredim this week –left-leaning bloggers. A few critiques were posted about Israel’s Jerusalem municipality’s reaction to Haredi riots. Philip Weiss, in his blog Mondoweiss, calls the police treatment of Haredim “bigotry.” And Jerry Haber, of the Magnes Zionist blog, began his latest entry saying, “I tend to distrust news reports about Haredim the same way I distrust news reports about Palestinians; both are hated sectors in Israeli society (though the haredim that participate in the state are much more privileged.)”
Not only bloggers took issue with police treatment of Haredi communities. Haaretz, Israel’s left-leaning daily, had an editorial condemning Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s “collective punishment against Haredim”. They criticised his decision to halt municipal services to two ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, Mea She’arim and Geula in response to the street violence. Barkat said this was done for safety reasons, to prevent attacks on municipal workers.
Arguing that only a slim minority out of “tens of thousands” of residents participated in rioting, the Haaretz editorial says that “for the municipality to declare war on an entire community will only further inflame passions and push Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community into a “them or us” stance toward the authorities … [Barkat] must strive to be a unifier and conciliator … Law enforcement is important, and he must insist on it. But he must not engage in populist hooliganism of his own.”
In the meantime, many of us may be wondering why all this rioting started in the first place. Recently, journalist Matt Baynon Rees wrote on just this subject, suggesting that the situation is actually a “sign of good times in Israel. Here’s why: It shows that Israelis think there’s nothing worse to worry about.” Despite difficulties on the horizon, such as the Israeli-U.S. standoff over a settlement freeze, Rees argues that in comparison to the days of the Intifada, “these are easy times for Israel”.
Jerry Haber offers other reasons, ranging from a long-time psyche of victimisation among Haredim in Israel, to frustrations over the mayor’s decision to keep open a municipal parking lot on the Sabbath and the failure to stop Jerusalem’s gay pride parade. He also says that many Haredim don’t believe allegations by Israeli legal authorities that an ultra-Orthodox woman starved her child — accusations that touched off the urban violence (read more here).
Haber’s theory? “It’s vacation time for yeshiva bachurim [boys in religious school], and it’s hot outside. Those of us who have lived in Jerusalem for a long time … will recall that protests of this sort are a summer activity.”
PHOTO:Ultra-Orthodox Jewish children walk past burning garbage in Jerusalem. July 16, 2009. REUTERS/Ammar Awad