'We'd made so much progress. Now these protests could set ties with social services back 20 years.'
By RUTH EGLASH
Haredi rioting in Jerusalem over the arrest of a woman suspected of nearly starving her three-year-old son to death could set relations between that community and the welfare services back some 20 years, according to Welfare and Social Services Ministry Director-General Nahum Itzkovitz.
"Working within the haredi sector is not simple," Itzkovitz told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "They have their traditions and we need to find a way to be culturally sensitive towards them."
Although Itzkovitz commended the Jerusalem Municipality's Social Welfare Department for its efforts in developing such a strategy in the capital, he admitted that the ongoing protests, which caused Mayor Nir Barkat to close down the welfare offices in certain neighborhoods this week, could lead to a major breakdown of trust in the secular authorities by some religious sects.
"There was so much progress over the last two decades, and it is very important that this incident does not destroy that," he said, reiterating Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog's call Wednesday for people to stay calm.
"I do not believe this has completely destroyed all trust between the haredi sector and social services," commented Hana Sasson, deputy director of social welfare services for northern Jerusalem.
"There are still many neighborhoods in Jerusalem with haredi people who are willing to work with us. There is a diverse spectrum of opinions and beliefs within the community itself and not everyone is protesting."
However, Sasson agreed that the disturbances had seriously compromised the trust built up over the last 20 years or so.
"Obviously it's still too early to tell if relations have been completely destroyed," she said, adding, "Only time will tell how much has been undone but we plan to work with rabbis and non-government organizations to rebuild anything that has been lost."
At the heart of the unrest is a Jerusalem-born woman suspected of suffering from Munchausen-by-proxy - a psychiatric disorder that entails abusing someone, typically a child, to draw attention to or sympathy for oneself. The woman allegedly starved and abused her toddler son until he weighed less than seven kilograms.
On Thursday afternoon police were forced to evacuate welfare workers from their offices in the Geula neighborhood of Jerusalem as haredim pelted the building with stones. No one was wounded.
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