In wake of Beit Shemesh riot, moderate haredim decry communal passivity

"Enough bullying!" posters hung in city after haredi violence in attempt to impose gender segregation on buses.

Avraham Leventhal 370 (photo credit: Sam Sokol)
Avraham Leventhal 370
(photo credit: Sam Sokol)
The moderate wing of ultra-Orthodoxy has called for the conservative branch to break its silence and take responsibility for the actions of extremists in the wake of last week’s rioting in Beit Shemesh.
Haredim stoned several buses last Wednesday, breaking the windows of one with a hammer, following the arrest of a couple that earlier had attempted to impose gender segregation by asking a woman traveler to leave her seat.
Posters stating “Enough Bullying” were plastered on street corners of the haredi neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh by activists of the Tov Party, which, going into municipal elections, claims to represent what are being called “newharedim.”
The signs were, for the most part, immediately torn down.
“The time has come to say enough,” the posters proclaimed.
“[The extremists] controlled the public thoroughfares and we were quiet. They insulted and embarrassed people in buses and we were quiet.... They brought a bad name to our town and desecrated God’s name, and we were quiet.... The time has come to stop the bullying and show responsibility for our city [and] to show responsibility for our community.”
According to party activist Eli Friedman, the posters were aimed at political representatives of the haredi community already serving on the city council.
“It’s not the job of the rabbis to make pronouncements on this issue,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
Aryeh Goldhaber, another activist, said he believed that many ultra-Orthodox people fear speaking out against extremists.
“A lot of people are afraid to attack these kinds of people,” Goldhaber said. “They are very violent and as you can see they are doing whatever they want, including attacking buses and people.”
Goldhaber said he felt that the Beit Shemesh Municipality could do more to prevent outbreaks of violence, and that it had “all the tools to connect with the rabbis” so as to come up with strategies.
He also suggested that the municipality initiate novel solutions, such as ceasing to collect trash where dumpsters have been burned, and coordinating with Egged to stop bus service in neighborhoods where company vehicles have come under attack.
The city has to send a message to extremists that “you have to be responsible for what you are doing,” Goldhaber asserted.
The Tov Party recently ran a campaign in Beit Shemesh aimed at combating incitement against haredi soldiers, called by their detractors hardakim, a pejorative term that grew out of what might be translated as “haredi lite” but which was tweaked to invoke the Hebrew word for bacteria (haidak).
Mati Rosenzweig, spokesman for Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbol, told the Post that the municipality planned on “turning to the parties responsible for [public] order” to combat the extremists.
“If there are criminals, it is [for] the police and not the municipality,” he said.
Asked why the municipality had not replied to requests for information following last week’s riot, Rosenzweig said he had been on vacation with his family and was not answering the phone.
MK Dov Lipman, a resident of Beit Shemesh who was active in combating local extremists before being elected to the Knesset, told the Post he hoped “the broader haredi community will rise to the occasion and join Tov in this condemnation and in working to be part of the rest of the nation instead of being against it.”