Haredim plan more Shabbat protests

'Massive' prayer session set for Friday night on Rehov Bar-Ilan over Saturday parking at city hall.

haredi protest riot 248.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haredi protest riot 248.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Members of the capital's ultra-Orthodox community are preparing for another weekend of protests against the opening of a municipal parking lot at city hall - free of charge and staffed by a non-Jew - on Shabbat. Last Saturday, thousands of ultra-Orthodox men clashed with police, first near the Kikar Safra parking lot, and then at the entrance to the Mea She'arim neighborhood, throwing bottles, rocks and dirty diapers, and lightly wounding six officers. The riots set off a backlash in secular circles, triggering calls to Mayor Nir Barkat not to capitulate to the haredi demands. Members of the ultra-Orthodox community responded by stepping up their activities designed to close the parking lot on Shabbat. On Wednesday, the ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist Eda Haredit organization announced that a "massive Kabbalat Shabbat" prayer service would be held on Rehov Bar-Ilan in the Bucharim neighborhood on Friday night, with the expected participation of leading rabbis and thousands of community members. Gur Hasidim - members of the largest hasidic sect in Israel, which has stayed out of the battle on an official level - are also expected to participate. Protest organizers are trying to enlist the endorsements of leading rabbis - including Rabbi Yosef Eliashiv, who leads Lithuanian ultra-Orthodoxy, and Gerrer Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter - by obtaining their signatures for pashkivilim, posters announcing the protests. Alter, who has already agreed to send his followers to the protest, said he would only give his signature if "all of the leading rabbis of Israel" did so as well. Organizers also said on Wednesday that the decision to hold the protest on Friday night, as opposed to Saturday afternoon, was made to avoid a secular counterprotest planned for Saturday. Nonetheless, posters that went up in Mea She'arim and other nearby ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods this week called on residents to attend Friday's prayer session, and to return to the parking lot on Saturday for an additional protest. "For the Haredim it's not about the parking lot, this has become a general battle over Shabbat in Jerusalem," Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, a member of the Eda Haharedit who heads the Zaka rescue and recovery organization told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. "Barkat has been in office for half a year now, and after the elections, which were really a referendum on the character of the city, and in which [ultra-Orthodox candidate Meir] Porush lost, the haredi street has been quietly brewing. The parking lot is simply what has set it off." Meshi-Zahav explained that while numerous private businesses operate on Shabbat in Jerusalem, the fact that it was the municipality operating the parking lot - essentially lending it an official stamp - had caused members of the ultra-Orthodox community to break their silence. "And Barkat is between a rock and a hard place," he said. "The Haredim are not going to back down, and the secular [residents] won't let Barkat back down." When the opening of the parking lot was initially discussed last month, an agreement was reached with the municipality's ultra-Orthodox council - made up of haredi city council members - which stipulated that a non-Jew would operate the lot in an effort to calm opposition. But the Eda Haredit, along with other haredi groups, rejected the deal, and last week they begin calling for protesters to take to the streets.