Analysis: The Jewish Department's worst nightmare

Shin Bet has warned about danger of former soldiers and officers who join radical yeshivot.

Nahal Haredi 298.88 (photo credit: Yitzhak Elharar / Scoop 80)
Nahal Haredi 298.88
(photo credit: Yitzhak Elharar / Scoop 80)
If, as the police suspect, the bomb that lightly wounded one man near Beit Shemesh on Friday was the work of haredi activists protesting the upcoming Gay Pride Parade, then it is a new development taking the relationship between religion and state back over 50 years. In the early Fifties, a group of yeshiva students joined together in a clandestine group called "Brit Hakanaim" (Brotherhood of the Zealots) to try to force the new state to adopt a more religious nature. Their methods were threats, arson and primitive bombs. They acted against butchers who sold non-kosher meat and drivers and taxi stands that operated on Shabbat. The members were arrested in May 1951 before they managed to carry out their plan to plant a bomb in the Knesset. One of them was the young Mordechai Eliahu, who 32 years later was elected chief rabbi. The Brotherhood and another similar haredi group that operated during the same period were inspired by the struggle of the Irgun and Lehi, that had not only fought against the British Mandate, but were also not part of the Zionist mainstream establishment. Many yeshiva students felt comfortable joining them. But despite the previous clandestine experience of some of the members, they were quickly rounded up by the police and security services before they managed to cause much damage. For the next five decades, the bitter conflicts between the government and the haredim often included violence from both sides, but at the most it included stone-throwing and fistfights. The younger generations, further, had no experience with weapons and explosives. The most they were capable of was burning dumpsters and spray-painting Herzl's grave. As adamant as the haredi rabbis and their followers were in fighting against autopsies, archeological digs in presumed burial grounds, and tussling with policemen during the battle for Shabbat, there always was a line they didn't cross between "casual" violence and the life-threatening variety. As much as they might have hated the Zionists, it always remained within acceptable limits. Over the last decade, the Shin Bet's "Jewish Department" has warned about the dangerous potential of former soldiers and officers in elite combat units who joined some of the more radical yeshivot. So far, this potential hasn't been realized - but the gay pride parades in Jerusalem have provoked a more violent response than ever. Two years ago, a haredi protester stabbed three participants. There is not enough space here to explain why the haredi community regards gays parading as a greater abomination than bacon sandwich eaters driving on Shabbat, but it has obviously pushed them to higher levels of violence than what was previously considered acceptable. The details released so far about Friday's bomb suggest a level of experience hitherto lacking in the haredi arsenal. If the leaflets found on the spot against the Gay Pride Parade aren't just a ruse, it seems like they have some new recruits - and the Shin Bet's fears might be realized.