Haredi ex-MK claims Reform anti-religious activists, media exaggerate scale of Mea She'arim violence

Haredi ex-MK claims Refo

Violence against police officers over the past week in the capital's Mea She'arim neighborhood does not represent a growing trend of lawlessness in the sprawling haredi enclave, according to former Knesset member and haredi journalist Rabbi Israel Eichler. Eichler told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that such incidents were being blown out of proportion by a group of anti-religious activists who wished to portray the haredi community as "the enemy" while advancing peace negotiations with the Palestinians. "There is a group of people who are against the haredim all the time," Eichler said. "They are mainly funded by Reform Jews from America who want to portray the haredi world in a bad light." Eichler, who is the editor of Hamahane Haharedi and a contributor to the haredi newspaper Mishpacha, also has his own daily talk-show on the religious Kol Hai radio station and served in the 16th Knesset with the Agudat Yisrael faction of United Torah Judaism. "The media is also at work here, creating an atmosphere of war, and more so than on all other issues," Eichler added. "As a result, what a few young people are doing [in Mea She'arim] immediately gets completely blown out of proportion." Nonetheless, the past week was a particularly violent one in Mea She'arim, beginning with a protest against the desecration of Shabbat that turned violent there on Saturday, followed by scattered incidents of rock-throwing and other disturbances throughout the week. Some 150 protesters gathered on the corner of the neighborhood's Rehov Shivtei Yisrael and Rehov Hanevi'im on Saturday afternoon to protest the ongoing operation of the Karta municipal parking lot on Shabbat, an issue that has long been a source of unrest both in the neighborhood and near the parking lot itself. According to police, one demonstrator was arrested after he attacked a police officer. In the evening, demonstrators moved a number of trash bins into the street and set them on fire. Police also reported at the time that rocks and other debris had been thrown at officers. While a police car was lightly damaged, no injuries were reported. On Wednesday, a group of haredi men attacked a police car that had been alerted to the area following reports of a break-in. According to police, the group chanted "Nazis" at the officers and kicked the car, again causing light damage. No injuries were reported in that incident, either, and the suspects fled the scene. Then, on Thursday morning, police were again attacked by a group of haredi men after being dispatched to the adjoining Beit Yisrael neighborhood in response to reports that a woman had been attacked by a local "modesty patrol" - one of a number of such groups in the area that attempt, often by force, to ensure the city's haredi residents conduct themselves according to the conventions of their lifestyle. When the law enforcement officials arrived at the scene on Thursday, a group of haredi men congregated nearby and threw stones at the officers. The officers' car was slightly damaged, but no injuries were reported. Though Eichler admitted that there were individuals causing problems in the neighborhood, he said the real blame lay with those who added fuel to the fire and portrayed all haredi residents of the capital in a single negative light, without specifying that it was minority, not the masses, who were engaging in such acts. "The reality is not at all what is seen in the news," he said. "[The media] is embellishing and adding their own sensationalism to the situation in order to make headlines. "The truth of the matter is that the secular, haredi and [national] religious public live in peace and quiet throughout Jerusalem, be it on the city's buses, on the streets, in the bank or in the business world. Those who are trying to heat up the situation are the media and radical anti-religious activists, who receive millions of dollars from the United States to launch smear campaigns against the haredi and religious public, including the settlers," he went on. "Every child who throws a rock turns into 'thousands of haredim' or a situation that resembles Iran," Eichler added. "This makes their donors in America happy, who want to convince people the danger is the haredim and not the Arabs." In reality, Eichler said, "99 percent of of those who are even taking part in the demonstrations aren't violent - we're talking about small groups of people on either side of this conflict who are causing the problems. By and large, members of the haredi community carry on their lives peacefully, as does the majority of the the secular community." Nonetheless, future tensions seemed to be forecast on Thursday as well, as members of the Eda Haredit - the anti-Zionist haredi organization that has been organizing the weekly protests against Shabbat desecration both at the Karta lot and at hi-tech giant Intel's Har Hotzvim factory - announced on Thursday that it was planning a large demonstration against the computer chip-maker on Sunday. If the protest takes place as scheduled, it will be the first time such a protest is held on a weekday. Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.