Conflict & Justice

Ultra-Orthodox and secular society clash in Israel


Israelis policemen disperse ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters in the central town of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, on Dec. 26, 2011. Extra Israeli police patrolled the streets of Beit Shemesh after a campaign by ultra-Orthodox Jews to segregate men and women erupted into violence.


Menahem Kahana

About a thousand ultra-Orthodox men gathered in Jerusalem last night to protest what they called incitement against the ultra-Orthodox on the part of Israeli secular society.

They also claimed to be expressing solidarity with Shmuel Weissfish a member of the radical religious outbreak group called the Sikriks. Weissfish is scheduled to begin a two year jail sentence today for vandalising an electronics store in Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox enclave in downtown Jerusalem where the protest was held.

Hundreds of police officers were on hand in expectation of much larger crowds, who were possibly deterred by frigid winds.

The protest caused outrage lasting through the night, as politicians and media figures became aware of images of the protesters, dressed in striped pajamas reminiscent of the uniforms of Jewish victims of Nazi prosecution.

Protesters wore the uniforms, with attached yellow Stars of David, and brought young children into the dark streets instructing them to raise their arms when photographers approached so as to resemble the iconic image of a young Jewish boy persecuted by Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto.

Protest leaders claimed the outfits were intended to demonstrate that the community is being "persecuted because we are Jews."

Minister Yossi Peled, himself a Holocaust survivor, said in an interview with Israel Army Radio that he had "No words to express what I feel seeing these images. I cannot comprehend people who behave this way."

Ya'acov Eichler, an ultra-Orthodox parliamentary correspondent for a religious newspaper, slammed the "secular media" in Israel for its coverage of the protest. "How does something like this even become an item? This is a minuscule minority of sick individuals who need treatment. Its the media that is making this into an item."

This was the latest in a growing series of clashes between the ultra-Orthodox minority in Israel and secular society. In addition to the other issues, this protest was intended to remonstrate against the "assimilationist" parties celebrating New Year's Eve that were taking place in bars, clubs and restaurants all around the Israeli capital.

Kadima party leader Tsippi Livni, the opposition leader, posted an early dawn response on her Facebook page: "With all due respect to the right of groups in the Haredi world to protest, and it is an elementary right, placing yellow star badge on children is a gross offense to Holocaust remembrance.”  

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