Haredi leader vows continued protests

Jerusalem mayor maintains "it was only a small handful of haredi extremists" who pelted his vehicle with stones.

Barkat speaks to supporters 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Barkat speaks to supporters 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
A day after Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was confronted by a group of Satmar hassidim who blocked his car and shouted "Shabbes," on Monday members of the Edah Haredit communal organization denounced the mayor and vowed to continue demonstrating against him. "The mayor lacks all sensitivity to the sanctity of Jerusalem," a senior figure connected with the Edah Haredit's Ha'edah weekly said. "He thinks he can run Jerusalem like some kind of hi-tech park and turn the world's holiest city for all the religions into a tourism and entertainment attraction and make it a magnet for Shabbat desecraters from all over the country. "May God help him understand the importance and sanctity of Jerusalem. But until that happens, we will continue to demonstrate outside his home, outside his office in the municipality, and we might start demonstrating next to the [Carta] parking lot not only on Shabbat but also during the week," added the source. Barkat was attacked on Sunday night as he left a meeting in Jerusalem's Ezrat Torah neighborhood with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Taub, who heads the Kalib hassidic sect. Taub, a Holocaust survivor, met with the mayor to get support for his institutions which educate the modern Orthodox and haredi communities on Holocaust history. A group of Satmar hassidim who live in the neighborhood heard about the meeting and converged on Barkat's entourage. Pictures show them sitting in the street holding hands and blocking Barkat's car. Police and municipal spokesmen said that reinforcements had to be called in and that the demonstrators threw rocks. However, sources from the Edah Haredit said they were not responsible for stone-throwing. "Anyone who threw rocks was not a part of the Edah Haredit," said the source. "They were a bunch of shababniks [haredi juvenile delinquents] and fringe elements who are presently on vacation." United Torah Judaism, the political party that represents mainstream haredi Ashkenazi interests, denounced the attack on Barkat. So did Shas. According to haredi media reports, Yated Ne'eman, a "Litvak" haredi daily, will publish a condemnation on Tuesday. The Edah Haredit is an umbrella organization for various hassidic sects such as Satmar, Toldot Aharon, Toldot Avraham-Yitzhak, certain streams of Breslav, Dushinsky and Munkacs. Unlike the more mainstream haredi groups that make up UTJ, all are bitterly opposed to any cooperation, political or social, with the Zionist state. Most do not vote in local or national elections. At least ostensibly, they do not receive welfare benefits from the state. Over the past month the Edah Haredit has been demonstrating against Barkat's decision to open the Carta parking lot near the Jaffa Gate on Shabbat. Other more mainstream haredi groups have also joined the demonstrations, although they have expressed opposition to the use of violence. Spiritual leaders such as Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and UTJ rabbinic authority Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv have also come out against opening the parking lot on Shabbat. Barkat's purpose in opening Carta is to allow Israelis easier access to the capital on Shabbat, a national day of rest and one of the few days many have the opportunity to visit. However, members of the Edah Haredit and other haredi leaders see the move as undermining the delicate status quo in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, a meeting between Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beiteinu) and Rabbi Tuvia Weiss, the head of the Edah Haredit's rabbinical court, failed to find a solution over the opening of a parking lot on Shabbat, Aharonovitch said following the meeting. The two had met to discuss ongoing haredi disturbances in the capital and the assault on Barkat. During the meeting, the rabbi told Aharonovitch that the status quo which existed in Jerusalem before the opening of the parking lot should be safeguarded, and that he had no intention of compromising "over the holiness of Shabbat." Aharonovitch and Weiss agreed to set up a joint dialogue committee to keep open a channel of communication. "At the moment, I can't point to progress. More meetings will be held... and I hope a solution is found," Aharonovitch said at the end of the meeting on Monday. Barkat said, "I will not be intimidated by violence and anyone who thinks that it is possible to get what he wants by using violence and bullying is mistaken." In an interview with Channel 2, Barkat maintained that "it was a small handful of haredi extremists" who were responsible for the attacks. He added that it was "only about 6 to 7 percent of haredim who are rioting, which is just 2% of the city." He praised police officers for the way they were dealing with the weekly riots. "I trust the police, and I must thank them for carrying out really good work," the mayor said. "Our aim is to restore calm to Jerusalem. We need to exercise patience and tolerance, but also a certain degree of force, to show that there are no prizes for violence. There is a way to protest without breaking the law." Somewhat brushing off Sunday night's incident by saying that he "was in much worse situations in the army," the former paratrooper major stressed that when his car was attacked, he and the police waited patiently before heading out of the area so that no one would be run over, "even though we took a few stones." Barkat told Army Radio on Monday morning that "these are people who believe they will achieve something by violence, but they don't understand it's exactly the other way around." "We must also turn to the extremist leaders of the Eda Haredit; protests are allowed, but there is a proper way to do so. There is a way to express dissent - but the way of violence, that should be condemned." The mayor expressed appreciation over the fact that all city council members, Orthodox and secular, condemned the violence against him. He said he was also sent threatening letters, which he turned over to the police. An eyewitness said Sunday evening's incident on Rehov Chana "looked like a lynching - a few more minutes and they would have flipped the car over." Ya'akov Lappin contributed to this story.