Will Israel stop haredi extremist violence?

What started as another wild and violent demonstration by one of the extreme factions ended with a serious result, and perhaps, God forbid, in the loss of life. 

 PERUSING ‘PASHKEVALIM.’ (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
PERUSING ‘PASHKEVALIM.’
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

For many in the haredi sector, it wasn’t a question of if but when: When would the unrestrained violence of a few groups cross the line, not only causing property damage and disrupting public order but also physically harming people?

Last week, it happened. What started as another wild and violent demonstration by one of the extreme factions ended with a serious result, and perhaps, God forbid, in the loss of life

From pashkevilim (posters with haredi pronouncements) laden with verbal assaults to burning trash cans, blocking roads and confronting the police, the protests reached new heights last Thursday when a giant trash can was spun out of control down Yehezkel Street, crushing a 40-year-old woman, the mother of 10, who’s still fighting for her life.

After 48 hours of silence and evasion, the outrageous response came from these extremist circles: From now on, they announced, they will have their own private security guards at demonstrations to prevent incidents like this happening again. 

 Israel Police officers survey the damage after heavy rioting from ultra-Orthodox protesters in central Jerusalem, December 15, 2022. (credit: ISRAEL POLICE SPOKESMAN) Israel Police officers survey the damage after heavy rioting from ultra-Orthodox protesters in central Jerusalem, December 15, 2022. (credit: ISRAEL POLICE SPOKESMAN)

No taking responsibility, no rethinking, no willingness to moderate the protests.

Among the leaders of the general haredi public, their response caused great outrage. Not only is there no intention on the extremists’ part to moderate their conduct, but there doesn’t appear to be any practical dealings on the part of the local authorities with the extremists. 

It’s the ultra-Orthodox who are the ones suffering the most from this violence, which, in this society, is not a new phenomenon. For many years, the fighting was directed inward, between rival groups, who spared no one, including respected rabbis. Bullying and attacks have long been present within the sector, not to mention the followers of sexual offender Eliezer Berland, who are well known for their violence.

The question that must be asked today is: Will the police finally intervene and stop the situation from deteriorating even further? “Everyone who... must act on this matter has long known what needs to be done, and the only question is why hasn’t it been done until now?” elected officials and leaders in the haredi community are asking.

As long as the violence was directed inward within the sector, it was seen at most as a foreign matter, the incomprehensible and discouraging conduct of an unfamiliar and withdrawn public. With the exception of demonstrations to protect the sanctity of Shabbat – such as preventing the opening of restaurants and cafés or any other activity they deemed desecrated the holy day, such as the operation of non-kosher shops and supermarkets in the city center – non-Orthodox Jerusalemites usually only heard about ultra-Orthodox violence from the news.

But in the last two decades, the haredi public has become not so distinct and separate anymore. They certainly continue to differ in their lifestyles, but the interaction with the other sectors, especially in the capital, deepened, and the increasing exposure to the ultra-Orthodox in the general public added friction that didn’t exist or was negligible until now. And as a result, the violence in recent years has reached the general public. 

At violent demonstrations, the police have used water cannons and “skunk” water, whose stench often caused the children to faint, yet the violence continued to rage and nothing was done to address the root cause of the bullies in ultra-Orthodox society. 

The claim among haredi leaders is that the police aren’t doing a thorough job in stopping the extremist groups. 

“The feeling is that it is convenient for everyone that we, the ultra-Orthodox, suffer the most from the extremists and only when it spills over to the main street do the police come into the picture,” says former MK Yitzhak Pindrus bitterly. ❖