Except for a collection of old copies of Ha'edah scattered on a desk and a few black-and-white notices promising divine punishment to all who vote, there was no evidence that the converted flat in Jerusalem's Mea She'arim was the public relations center for Zionism's oldest Jewish enemy, the Edah Haredit, also known as Natorei Karta.
Phone calls from Beit Shemesh kept interrupting Shmuel Popenheim, Ha'edah's chief editor, as he equated voting with idolatry. The phone calls were blow-by-blow reports on clashes between two segments of the town's large haredi community.
"What? Hanoch is going to press charges?" Popenheim said in Yiddish. "I can't believe it. Okay thanks."
Hanoch was Hanoch Dringer, a head of United Torah Judaism's campaign headquarters. He was planning to file a complaint with the police after Meshulam Friedman, an Edah Haredit activist, forced his way into an election booth to protest the exercise of voting rights by his haredi neighbors.
In another phone call, Popenheim was told that a known Edah Haredit activist was beaten up by a group of Ger hassidim from Ashdod, who came to Beit Shemesh to police the polling booths. Luckily for the Edah Haredit activist, he was attacked near a kolel belonging to the Dushinsky hassidic sect, which supports the Edah Haredit. The Dushinsky hassidim managed to chase away the Ger hassidim.
Avraham Berger, chairman of Agudat Yisrael in Beit Shemesh, said there was a strong show of force by the Edah Haredit.
"At around 2 p.m. a hundred of them demonstrated outside the election booths," he said. "They blocked the road and shouted slogans. Mostly women were intimidated. But the police kept them under control."
The Edah Haredit is a collection of hassidic sects, such as Satmar, Toldot Aharon, Breslav and Dushinsky, and also some Lithuanian haredim who believe it is strictly prohibited to establish a Jewish state before the messiah comes, even if it is governed by Halacha. Zionism, according to them, is a rebellion against God. Giving legitimacy to the state by voting is tantamount to joining forces with evil.
In contrast, mainstream haredi political parties such as UTJ and Shas believe it is justified for them, as taxpaying citizens, to use politics as leverage to get Torah education budgets and transform Israel into a more Jewish state.
Popenheim, who was warm and congenial, said that 364 days a year the different camps within haredi Judaism get along.
"Number six on UTJ's list [Ya'acov Cohen, a Ger hassid,] is my neighbor," said Popenheim, who belongs to the Toldot Aharon, an offshoot of Satmar. "We are good friends and even pray together. But Election Day is a major point of dissent."
Commenting on recent trips to Iran and Ramallah by Natorei Karta, one of the sects affiliated with the Edah Haredit, Popenheim said he had mixed feelings.
"On one hand, I think they are doing us an important service by showing Muslims that there are anti-Zionist Jews who have no wish to fight and want to live in peace," he said. "On the other hand, I don't like the idea of meeting with the murderers of innocent women and children."
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