Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Jews take on Intel
In recent months, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem have taken to the streets in protest over businesses operating on Saturday – the Jewish Sabbath when ritual law bans Jews from working. At times, the demonstrations have even turned violent, like a conflagration in July over a parking lot near the Old City. Most of the ultra-Orthodox ire has been directed at the Jerusalem municipality.
Last week, the Shabbat Strife took a surprising turn with some ultra-Orthodox taking aim at the world’s biggest electronic chip maker for keeping their new Jerusalem plant open on the Jewish day of rest. Though the building is located in an industrial park on the outskirts of the city, it is nearby a religious neighborhood that strictly observes the Sabbath laws.
Intel’s new electronic chip plant was inaugurated on Nov. 15, and the company said it would operate on Saturdays in accordance with its business needs and Israeli law. This announcement drew hundreds of angry ultra-Orthodox Jews who gathered outside the building. Some threw rocks at police trying to disperse the crowd.
Since last week’s outburst, representatives of the ultra-Orthodox community, with mediation from religious parliament member Uri Maklev, have been trying to reach an agreement with Intel. An aide to Maklev said a likely solution to the quarrel would be to keep the plant open on Saturdays, but allow only non-Jews to work.
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, a leading Jewish sage, is expected to okay the deal. But Israeli radio is already reporting that not all of the ultra-Orthodox will be satisfied.
The web portal run by the ultra-Orthodox reported (Hebrew) that Rabbi Elyashiv authorised sending a special envoy to the United States to meet with “the man in charge” – Craig Barrett, Intel’s chairman. An aide to Maklev said the legislator was unaware any envoys were being dispatched to negotiate with the company.
The protests pit the ultra-Orthodox community against a multi-billion dollar manufacturer and Israel’s largest exporter. So far, it seems unlikely that Intel’s business in Israel will be affected. But if the disagreement escalates further, jeopardising Intel’s operations, there is a chance that the government, which has so far avoided getting involved such issues, may step in.
Click below to watch footage of the protests in Har Hotzvim, Jerusalem on November 14, 2009:
PHOTO: Ultra-Orthodox Jews take part in a protest against the operation of an Intel plant on the Jewish Sabbath in Jerusalem November 14, 2009. REUTERS/Baz Ratner