Shabbat unrest

Shabbat unrest

November 19, 2009 12:47
haredi intel 248.88 ap

haredi intel 248.88 ap. (photo credit: AP)

While the cold wind and early sunsets that recently began in Jerusalem bear little likeness to the hot, sunny days of summer, residents of the capital were subjected this week to a scene reminiscent of June, July or August as thousands of haredi protesters descended upon hi-tech giant Intel's offices at Har Hotzvim and demonstrated against the company's alleged desecration of Shabbat. In many ways the scene was a repeat of the summer's vicious Shabbat Wars, which plagued the Karta municipal parking lot opposite the Old City's Jaffa Gate for some three months and resulted in weekly photographs and video images of shtreimel and bekishe-clad men grappling with uniformed Border Patrol and police officers, all the while yelling "Shabbes! Shabbes!" Angry over the opening and operation of the parking lot on the Jewish day of rest, the haredi protesters exhibited a steadfast, albeit zealous, resolve to make their voices heard and protect the sanctity of the holy day - even though through their actions, it was argued, Shabbat desecration was only increased. Nonetheless, the riots went on unabated until rabbis from the Eda Haredit - the staunchly anti-Zionist haredi organization - called on their followers to tone down the unrest, which was noticeably more docile when it relocated to the capital's Mea She'arim neighborhood the following week. City officials were relieved at that outcome but appeared to be caught off guard this week when a large contingent of protesters amassed at Intel and began what appears to be the next battle in the war to respect the Jewish day of rest. Superficial similarities, however, between this week's developments and last summer's violence can be replaced with more fundamental differences. While the Karta parking lot is just a parking lot, Intel is one of Israel's largest exporters and a windfall for the country's current economic ills. While the opposition surrounding the parking lot cast Jerusalem in a difficult light for those trying to promote weekend tourism to the Old City and other downtown attractions, Intel is a commercial enterprise in all respects and must continue to be profitable regardless of what that entails. Its Jerusalem plant was built in 1975 at the behest of Dutch-born electrical engineer and entrepreneur Dov Frohman - the man who brought Intel to Israel - with the emphasis on bringing hi-tech to the capital. Dubbed the "Fab-8," a manufacturing facility for Intel semiconductor computer chips, the plant was widely celebrated for its significant addition to the business profile of the capital and the employment opportunities it presented for Jerusalem residents. According to the widely read Israeli blog The Muqata (, which ran a detailed report on the Intel unrest this week, the heart of the Fab-8 facility was its "clean room," where the computer chips were made - more than a thousand times cleaner than an operating room in a hospital and where even the smallest of dust particles could ruin a production run. "The complexity of running a state-of-the-art clean room meant that you couldn't simply turn off ovens that grow the silicon wafers on Friday afternoon and restart them after Shabbat on Saturday night. They need to run round the clock," The Muqata wrote. "While no production was actually running at Fab-8," the article adds, "there was a skeleton crew walking around ensuring that nothing was overheating, exploding or causing a life-threatening emergency." However, as the article goes on to explain, the slower production rates at Fab-8 made it vulnerable to the competition of other Intel plants that ran production seven days a week. Although Intel did attempt to remedy the Shabbat issue, such as using an innovative Shabbat clock robotic operation to help compete with the other plants, a decision was finally made to build a new plant, one that would be open on Shabbat. According to the Muqata article, Intel knew this would never work in Jerusalem. So the company ultimately set its sights on Kiryat Gat, whose municipality was more than happy to accommodate Intel, considering the thousands of job opportunities this addition would present to the cash-strapped town. The deal was struck, and in 1999 the new Fab-18 plant was opened in Kiryat Gat, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At the same time, the aging Fab-8 plant in Jerusalem began slowing down its production, as it couldn't keep up with the manufacturing processes needed for the latest computer chips, and it all but closed down a few years ago. But in 2007 Intel decided to refurbish the Jerusalem plant completely, making it a player in the manufacturing process again - albeit not on the same level as Kiryat Gat - for the type of technology done at Intel's plants in the Far East. The plant was officially opened on Sunday, and while the ceremony accompanying its first day on the job was spared the demonstrations seen just 24 hours prior, considerable worry remains - from Intel and municipality officials - that this Shabbat will bear witness to another round of riots, thrusting the capital back into the weekly cycle of violence seen over the summer, and this time with much more at stake. YET EVEN if last week's riots had been an isolated incident, the phenomenon of raucous protests and even violence coming out of a sector of Jerusalem's haredi community is part of a much larger, worrying trend. According to Prof. Menachem Friedman, an emeritus professor of sociology at Bar-Ilan University and an expert on haredi society, the Karta parking lot violence and the situation at Intel are based in part on a newfound sense of power among the haredi community. "It's a feeling of strength, and it's a feeling that they are the future of the city," Prof. Friedman told In Jerusalem this week. "And that's a natural response, given their growing numbers. They see their numbers, they see that their children make up more than 50 percent of schoolchildren in Jerusalem. But this is a feeling that was not there 40 or 50 years ago. Before, they saw themselves as the minority. Today that is changing. And, coupled with the emigration of secular and modern Orthodox Israelis from the capital, they feel that they will be in complete control at some point down the line," he says. Because of that perceived change in status, Friedman adds, the violence being perpetrated by the younger or more extreme members of the community seemed to be emerging with rabbinic sanction. "The Jewish law that states 'He who breaks the Sabbath in public is like a non-Jew in every way' was never used before the way it is now. You never would have heard that used as a justification for violence 40 or 50 years ago, even though the law was certainly there," he says. Friedman tied that, along with an additional law, to explain how, according to reports from Intel officials, a group of rioters could have found religious clearance to break into the synagogue on Intel's premises during last Saturday's demonstration and throw holy books to the floor or smash in doors with prayer stands. Additionally, Friedman says, the current battle over Shabbat in the capital is also rooted in previous struggles for the sanctification of the holy day in Jerusalem and based on what he labels the "myths" of the haredi community. "Just as secular Israeli society has its myths of the generals of the Palmah and Hagana or the Six Day War, the haredi world has its myths as well," he says. "Many of those myths come from the struggles in Jerusalem over Shabbat in the 1950s and '60s during which, the haredi myth now states, they won many of those struggles." They did win some of those struggles, Friedman says, but they lost many more. "The myths surrounding [the founder of the anti-Zionist Natorei Karta group] Rabbi Amram Blau and his participation in Shabbat demonstrations in the 1950s have also spurred on the unrest." But the haredi community's current targeting of Intel, Friedman says, is "much more dangerous" than the summer's Karta parking lot riots, in that this is rooted deeply in the Israeli economy. At the end of the day, if the Karta lot is shut down, secular Israelis can't park their cars near the Old City," Friedman says. "But Intel is pure economy. It is perhaps the climax of capitalism and a prime example of globalization. Intel has plants in India, Ireland, all over the world. The company didn't ask to come to Israel - Israel asked them to come here. In fact, they could probably get much better conditions in India. Clearly it's profitable for them in Israel right now, but if it ceases to be profitable, if they have problems here, they'll go somewhere else - that's the essence of globalization," he says. "And who will lose?" asks Friedman. "Jerusalem will lose, the workers will lose. I'm not saying it will happen, but it could be that if the haredim force Intel out of Jerusalem, the protests could then spread to Kiryat Gat."

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