Friday, July 17, 2009

Haaretz protests collective punishment against chareidim


Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat presents himself as the secular leader who came to rescue Israel's capital from the control of the ultra-Orthodox and give it an open, pluralistic character. But his announcement that he is halting municipal services to the neighborhoods of Geula and Mea She'arim in response to violent rioting by some of these neighborhoods' residents constitutes collective punishment, which will merely further inflame already stormy tempers.

For several weeks now, Barkat has been facing off against the Eda Haredit - a group of sects and rabbinical courts that reject the Zionist state and boycott its institutions. In an effort to score points on the ultra-Orthodox street, the Eda Haredit launched a battle against the opening of the municipality's Safra parking garage on Shabbat and won support from the most important ultra-Orthodox rabbis and halakhic arbiters. Barkat, rightly, stood up to them: He refused to give in to the demonstrations and left the parking garage open.

The protests against the parking garage waned, and no protests developed against the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem. But then the ultra-Orthodox found a new pretext for battling the authorities: the arrest of a woman from an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood on suspicions of starving and abusing her infant son. Harshly worded posters against the police and the welfare services appeared in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, and rumors were spread that the baby had been the victim of a medical experiment and that the police had exploited the mother's visit to a welfare office to ambush and arrest her.

This time, the protests deteriorated into open violence, which included rioting, vandalizing municipal welfare offices, torching trash bins, damaging sanitary equipment and violent demonstrations by thousands of ultra-Orthodox residents.

Barkat responded by announcing a halt in the provision of municipal services to the two ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods where the riots took place, Mea She'arim and Geula. He justified this decision by the need to protect municipal workers from attacks, given the vandalizing of the welfare offices. But his hasty announcement was a mistake. Both neighborhoods are inhabited by tens of thousands of people, of which only a tiny minority participated in the violence. There is no reason to punish the many for the sins of the few.

One can understand Barkat's fears for the safety of municipal welfare and sanitation workers, but the solution is not collective punishment of the ultra-Orthodox community. Instead, he could have the welfare offices guarded and bar trash collection when and where demonstrations are occurring. But for the municipality to declare war on an entire community will only further inflame passions and push Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community into a "them or us" stance toward the authorities. And this is happening at a time when the violent riots over this issue, unlike the protests against the parking garage, have failed to win the backing of the rabbis - not even those of the most extremist factions. [...]

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