J'lem: Violence follows arrest of haredi charity workers

Hundreds protest in Jerusalem's Shabbat Square after six suspects were arrested in Mea She'arim financial scandal.

By
January 15, 2012 15:23
2 minute read.

Haredi man arrested in Mea Shearim 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Violent demonstrations took hold of the capital’s Mea She’arim neighborhood on Sunday afternoon, following the arrest of six haredi men earlier in the day.

The men were arrested on suspicion of embezzling charitable funds, money laundering, tax evasion and other tax offenses.

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The ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit organization called for a protest outside its headquarters in Mea She’arim. Several hundred men gathered to listen to a number of fiery speeches by senior figures of Eda Haredit.

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Demonstrators – mostly members of the old Yerushalmi community as well as members of the Toldot Aharon hassidic sect – then streamed towards Shabbat Square at the heart of the neighborhood, successfully halting traffic on the busy thoroughfare.

Three men were arrested during the afternoon disturbances, ostensibly for impeding traffic, with dozens of ultra-Orthodox men chasing after police officers, throwing stones at them and calling them “Nazis.” A cameraman was lightly injured in the brawl.

Media personnel were repeatedly harassed by protesters and several garbage dumpsters were set ablaze.

Riot police arrived and the flow of traffic resumed. Tensions remained high.

“They are trying to uproot Judaism and the Jewish people,” one man declared.

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“We’ve been here for 200 years and we got on just fine – what do we need the state for?” he demanded, referring to the settlement in Jerusalem and the wider region in the 18th and 19th centuries of a significant number of Jews from Lithuania, disciples of the Vilna Gaon, along with other European Jews.

“It’s like we’re in Communist Russia,” another bystander said. “They stage inflammatory events like the supposed spitting incident in Beit Shemesh [against an eight-year-old girl] and then come to arrest us.”

Among those arrested was Rabbi Amram Shapira, the top aide to the head of Eda Haredit, Rabbi Yitzhak Tuviah Weiss. Shapira was released Sunday night. The judge said there was not one shred of evidence against him regarding financial crimes. Also arrested was Rabbi Shmuel Yerushalmi- Lovtzki, the director of the National Committee to Save Needy Families, the main charity involved in the current police investigation. His remand was extended until Thursday.

The Eda called for the protests in response to the arrests, which were seen as a severe insult to Weiss, who also serves as president of the National Committee to Save Needy Families.

Weiss said the arrests were designed to injure him, and that if the police wanted, it should come and arrest him too.

Nachman, a bystander who claimed to be a nephew of Shapira, said the ultra-Orthodox community just wanted to be left in peace.

“We don’t want to interfere with the seculars and we don’t want them to interfere with us in our neighborhoods,” he said.

Several dozen men restarted a small protest on Shivtei Israel Street later in the evening.

Disturbances also broke out in Beit Shemesh, where approximately 200 protesters blocked Nahar Hayarden Street and threw stones. Police arrested four men.

Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.

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