Jerusalem haredi city councilmen to fight parking lot
Shas councilman quits in protest, while his colleagues refuse to compromise.
By MATTHEW WAGNER
Haredi members of the Jerusalem City Council said Sunday they would never compromise over the opening of a parking lot on Shabbat.
"Just look at the pictures of the thousands who took to the streets on Shabbat to protest and you will realize that there can be no compromise when God's name is desecrated," said Eli Simchayov, a Shas representative in the municipality. "We will never tolerate any changes in the status quo."
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, respectively the most revered Ashkenazi and Sephardi halachic authorities both called on their faithful to take to the streets over the weekend to protest the decision to open up the Carta parking lot, located adjacent to Jerusalem's Old City, to accommodate Shabbat tourists.
On Friday night and Saturday, thousands of haredi men took to the streets of Jerusalem in their Shabbat finery; some grappled with burly, police officers decked in riot gear.
"Throughout history Jews gave their lives rather than desecrate Shabbat," said one young haredi activist. "Do you think we would do anything less in the heart of Jerusalem, the holy city?"
TV footage showed emotionally stoked young haredi activists - obviously driven by a strong conviction that they are fighting a holy war against apostates - shouting war cries, hurling used diapers, glass bottles and other miscellaneous refuge, and fearlessly confronting baton-bearing law enforcement agents. Nearly 60 of them were arrested.
Ya'acov Eichler, a veteran haredi journalist and news analyst for Channel 99, said that there was a strong feeling of alienation among haredim to the secular Zionist state, which remains latent as long as the religious status quo is maintained.
"[Jerusalem Mayor Nir] Barkat's idiotic confrontational approach ignited the situation," said Eichler, a Belz hassid who appears on TV in full hassidic garb. "He handled the situation like an amateur and [it] led to a total explosion."
Backed by both a strong grassroots contingent and a unified rabbinical leadership, haredi representatives in the Jerusalem Municipality said they would not budge from their demand to scrap the parking lot opening.
One haredi councilman - Rabbi Shmuel Yitzhaki of Shas - has already resigned from Barkat's coalition in protest. The other three Shas representatives are waiting to hear what their spiritual mentor Yosef tells them to do. The five Ashkenazi haredi representatives from Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael are also presenting a firm front.
But with only nine council seats among them out of a total of 31, the haredi representatives lack the political strength to force Barkat's hand. The only tool the community has is street demonstrations.
A meeting to further discuss the matter is slated for Tuesday between Barkat and the haredi representatives.
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