It is summer in Israel, so someone must be either protesting or on strike. This time protests were started by only a small, extremely anti-Zionist sect within the Haredi community, the Eda HaHaredit, over Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s decision to open a parking lot for use on Shabbat. The parking lot would be operated by a non-Jew, and would help alleviate the city’s parking shortage. That was a few weeks ago. In the mean time, much of the larger Haredi community has taken on this “cause” as their own.
These protests are not peaceful demonstrations, but violent riots, and often take place on Shabbat, in violation Jewish law. Not only do the rioters ignore the concept of ואהבת לרעך כמוך (love your friend as yourself) by attacking people, throwing rocks is a violation of Shabbat. These rioters, and those who incite them are merely masquerading as observant Jews.
A few weeks ago, (former) Ha’aretz reporter Shachar Ilan wrote in his The Marker blog about the situation:
To embarrass! That is the name of the game in the new Shabbat struggle in Jerusalem. The Eda HaHaredit (a small fanatical faction) opposes the participation of the Haredi parties in the municipal coalition and so they protest. In the intra-Haredi political game the Eda HaHaredit is the opposition and the Haredi parties are the government. The opposition’s job is to criticize. The fact that the Safra Parking Lot is surrounded by restaurants, pubs and clubs that have been operating on Shabbat for years is irrelevant. As is the fact that the parking lot will not charge for parking, or that parking at Safra will prevent parking on Shivtei Yisrael Road near Mea Shearim, and will prevent serious safety hazards. The issue is the opening of the parking lot on Shabbat, and the Eda HaHaredit will not miss a golden opportunity to embarrass the Haredi parties.
The economic angle. There is a difficult crisis in donations to religious institutions due to the global economic crisis. The Eda HaHaredit subsists primarily on donations. It is a well-known secret that religious struggles and confrontations with the Zionist police encourage donations. Could it be that the new Shabbat struggle in Jerusalem is part of the fallout from the global economic crisis and that the reporting of the Shabbat protests should be done in the business section? Can’t be. No way. How could one suspect the Torah sages of such motives?
Ilan’s analysis is interesting, but the comments section is fascinating. A former Haredi, Shlomo, shares his insight into the world of the young protesters. This perspective is rare to see, as airing dirty laundry is taboo. Teenagers were assigned to various locations for the protests, and participants were exempt from homework. In his words, they were but “mere cannon fodder.” When they threw stones, they thought about the punishment Shabbat violators will receive in hell. When they burned Israeli flags on Yom Ha’atzmaut, they thought about how the state is impeding the arrival of the Messiah. Vandalism or respect for property – “these were not terms that were in our lexicon.” These crimes are encouraged, and those who commit them are idolized:
Each of us that was arrested, turned into the darling of the class, or the Yeshiva, surrounded by love in shul, got calls of “yishar koach” from passersby, even though we only spent a few hours in the Russian Compound (police headquarters).
In addition to the brainwashing of these kids to commit crimes, the hypocrisy of the rioters is clear. On the one hand, they are anti-Zionist, disavowing Jewish sovereignty until the coming of the Messiah. On the other hand, their behavior exhibits their sense of entitlement in the Zionist state.
An old story (source unknown) about Rabbi Shach emphasizes this point. Upon witnessing a Haredi man yelling at an Israel Police officer, Rabbi Shach quipped that the man must have become a Zionist. The man was surprised, “What are you talking about?” Rabbi Shach responded, “Would you have dared to yell at a police officer back in Poland?” In other words, is there rioting in the streets of Brooklyn and Antwerp?