Analysis: Force law on the Charedim

By Naomi Ragen, July 23, 2009

A woman is caught on tape detaching the feeding tube from her starving three-year-old in Hadassah Hospital, after years of bringing the child in with unexplained medical conditions and bodily injuries. She is arrested by authorities for child endangerment and jailed. In response, her community backs her up, burns property and assaults police and social workers.

This story makes no sense until you add that the woman is Charedi, a member of Neturei Karta sect in Jerusalem’s Meah Shearim.

As citizens of Israel look on in astonishment as the streets of its capital are set on fire and innocent passersby are subject to a pogrom of stones and curses, we long-time inhabitants of Jerusalem are not surprised.

For years, police and government authorities have treated Meah Shearim, the hotbed of virulent Charedi anti-Israel provocations, as the French have treated the Arab suburbs of Paris, the banlieues: as a separate country, afraid to engage with its inhabitants, to enforce the laws of the nation.

It is a no-go zone, where inhabitants are subject to mob rule.

I saw this personally when I was writing my play Women’s Minyan. It was based on the true story of a Charedi woman in Meah Shearim, mother of 12, who found out her sexually abusive husband was having an affair. When she demanded he give her a divorce, she was thrown out of the house.

When she asked for child custody in the Rabbinical Courts, the rabbinical judges colluded to ban her from any contact with her children forever.

And Israel’s Supreme Court turned out to be absolutely spineless, sending it back to the Rabbinical Courts until the mother gave up in despair.

Members of Neturei Karta have actively befriended people like Arafat and Ahmadinejad. The fact that they live in this country and “don’t send their children abroad” (not true by the way), as one Charedi apologist asserted last week on television, does not make them loyal citizens.

For years, Israel society has allowed Meah Shearim — like Tulkarem and Ramallah — to be off limits to Israeli law. If Israel authorities had asserted the law of the land on thugs who call themselves modesty patrols, perhaps the streets wouldn’t be burning today.

If municipal authorities had torn down the signs warning women what they can and can’t wear on city streets; if the Ministry of Transportation had not given Charedi thugs license to harass women passengers on public buses by caving in to absurd demands for “mehadrin” bus lines where women must sit in the back, we wouldn’t be seeing these riots today.

If the police were willing to aggressively investigate and prosecute child abusers and sexual predators hiding behind black clothes in this city, where citizens are afraid to report abuse for fear of becoming targets of Charedi thug patrols, we wouldn’t be seeing this today.

And if the Education Ministry would extend the laws of compulsory education and the basic curriculum to schools in Meah Shearim, we wouldn’t be seeing this today.

The time has come to say there is only one Jewish state, with one set of laws and rules of behaviour for all its citizens. There are no banlieues, no no-go zones. All Israel’s citizens need to be subject to the same laws and penalties, the same obligations. Whether the crimes they commit are in the name of Hashem or the name of Allah.

Naomi Ragen is an American-born novelist who has lived in Jerusalem since 1971

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010