The quiet organizer behind the new haredi riots vows: We won't surrender

'I know secular people feel under attack in Jerusalem, but our way of life is being attacked, and we will defend ourselves and the Torah to the fullest measure,' Eda Haharedit operations director tells 'Post.'

Behind the shabby stone buildings and through the dusty streets of the capital's haredi Mea She'arim neighborhood, Yoel "Yoelish" Kraus is preparing for another day on the job. "This is my bunker," he says jokingly, as he leads the way into to a fluorescent-lit grouping of small rooms off a side street. Old books and bottles are scattered about and he sits, appropriating a spent memorial candle-holder to use as an ashtray, and glancing around at the folders and stacks of papers arranged on his shelves. "Call it what you like, but this is where I work." By "work," Kraus means his unofficial, yet widely accepted role as the kambatz, or operations director, for the Eda Haharedit. The staunchly anti-Zionist haredi communal organization has thrust itself into the spotlight with its fierce opposition to the opening of the city hall Safra parking lot on Shabbat, and the subsequent riots that engulfed Mea She'arim last Saturday evening, in which six police officers were injured. On Thursday night, the police asked Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to keep the lot closed for the next two weeks so that a compromise can be found - a partial victory for the protesters, and for Kraus. While he shies from the title, the slender, 36-year-old father of 11 is indeed the man behind the men - the coordinator of the Eda's meticulously coordinated protests and behind-the-scenes deal-brokering that brings leading rabbis into its fold on various issues. He can set the haredi street on fire, often literally, with a telephone call or even a word. "It's a network," he says of the young men who willingly take to the street in protest. "Once the word goes out, it filters through the community quite efficiently." In reality, the job is more complex than that, and Kraus, himself born and raised in Mea She'arim, serves as a facilitator - someone who knows who's who within the community, and makes the appropriate connections between them when something needs to get done. "Let's say we want to stage a protest," Kraus says. "I contact people and get the word out, while the pashkivlim [wall posters used for announcements] also play an important role." Rabbinic support only helps, and depending on the perceived severity of the issue, Kraus is able to drum up support and use his connections to mobilize his men on the street, culminating, if he so chooses, in what was seen last Saturday... and may be seen this Saturday too, unless Barkat backs down. But violence is not Kraus's goal, and he insists that he prefers peaceful methods. When it comes to the kind of protests for which his organization has gained infamy - before last week's riot, Kraus was known for his involvement in the protests against the 2006 Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, which turned extremely violent - he is exceedingly somber. "We despise violence," he says with conviction. "And it hurts us, too. Why do you think we called off the protests [for the 2007 Gay Pride Parade]? We wanted to prevent further violence." And he says he does try. "Let's say you have 15,000 people," he continues. "Maybe 30 of them are violent. So instead of putting those 30 all together, you spread them out. This keeps things manageable." He says it's the police who often push the crowds too far. "At last week's protest, one officer, not a regular beat cop, but an officer, stood in front of the crowd and lit a cigarette [on Shabbat], just to antagonize them," he says. However, Kraus says that his organization views public protest as its only way to be heard. "I know secular people say that they feel under attack in Jerusalem, but if anything, we're the ones who are being attacked. Our way of life is being attacked, and we will defend ourselves and the Torah to the fullest measure." The current battle over the parking lot is no exception, and as Kraus details his daily regimen and wider world view, his cellphone rings continuously and a beeper, hidden beneath the fringed wool cloth of his tallit katan, vibrates wildly. "This was the straw that broke the camel's back," Kraus says of the parking lot. "Barkat has been in office for six months now, and we've seen where he's taking the city - 32 new restaurants and stores that operate on Shabbat have opened since he took office, and we've been quiet about all of it, until now." Kraus says that the city's role in operating the parking lot - the symbolism that the municipality's participation lends to the breaking of Shabbat - has presented his organization with an offense it cannot refuse to confront. "And we will continue to protest it until they close it down," he says. "There will be no surrender on our part." But Kraus's involvement, and for that matter the involvement of his organization in the official dealings of the city, also presents a dilemma. A member of the anti-Zionist Toldot Aharon hasidic sect, Kraus refuses to buy government-subsidized bread, has never set foot on an Egged bus, and avoids taking part in anything that bears even the fingerprints of "the state." The Eda Haredit is also quite scrupulous when it comes to refraining from connections with the state, but Kraus explains the seeming contradiction quite simply. "When it comes to preserving the sanctity of Jerusalem, and especially with regards to the holy Shabbat, we will fight the state when it endorses its desecration in such a public manner." Citing the Rambam's concept of "hilul Shabbat b'farhesiya," or the desecration of Shabbat in public, Kraus says there is no grey area. "We must oppose it. And if the municipality is leading the way, then we must confront the municipality." Kraus carries on, constantly checking his phone and sending text messages. But while his rhetoric is extreme, he himself is soft-spoken and truly calm. "There are so many problems, and we remain silent about a lot of them," he says. "But we cannot back down when it comes to Shabbat."•