Analysis: Real motive is that they hate the state

By Miriam Shaviv, July 23, 2009
A protester is held by undercover security after being pepper-sprayed

A protester is held by undercover security after being pepper-sprayed

In Jerusalem, Charedi riots are as much part of the summer as chamsin and ice cream.

Past pretexts have included adverts with pictures of immodestly dressed women displayed at bus stops; a Gay Pride march; and the demand to close the Bar-Ilan road on Shabbat.

This year, there were two triggers. First, the opening of a municipal-owned car park on Shabbat, then, last week, the tragic case of a strictly Orthodox mother who has been accused of starving one of her children almost to death.

She apparently suffers from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, a condition in which parents make their children ill in order to attract attention to themselves.

Throughout, the police have had no idea how to deal with the rioters — alternately negotiating with them and carrying out mass arrests, but never actually taming them. It may be that there is very little that can be done.

While the media tends to blame “Charedim” for the riots, in reality they are being instigated and led by a small, radical sect, the Edah Charedit, who form no more than 5 per cent of the country’s 600,000 strictly Orthodox.

One of the defining characteristics of this group, which includes, amongst others, Satmar Chasidim and the Toldot Aharon faction, to which the accused mother belongs, is their anti-Zionism. They are actively hostile towards the state and its institutions, with a deep suspicion of hospitals, social workers and the police.

So their belief that the “abusive mother” is being victimised and framed by the authorities (and is really an exemplary mother whose son was being treated for cancer) is authentic.

However, while they of course believe that car parks should be closed on Shabbat, getting the municipal car lot shut down is ultimately not the point. The confrontation is.

Their basic approach to the state is one of struggle. And because their ends are so radical, they are willing to use radical means — including, this week, torching two welfare offices and pelting officers with garbage.

Mainstream Charedim, by contrast, have come to terms with the state and cooperate with it, voting (unlike the Edah) and using its services happily.

There are many religious social workers in Jerusalem and the municipality has gone out of its way to provide services which are appropriate and sensitive to the strictly Orthodox.

There is also widespread dislike of the Edah’s violent tactics and in the case of the allegedly Munchausen mother, many do question her mental health. But when push comes to shove, the rest of the Charedi community support the Edah.

First, there is a basic issue of identity. When forced to choose sides between the secular state and other Charedim, they will choose those with whom they identify culturally, religiously and emotionally.

Second, in issues of state and religion, such as the closing of the car park, none of the rabbis wants to look as if they are “soft” on halachah.

And third, some of the rioting mobs — which also include young tear-aways from other Charedi sects — are simply out of control.

Despite its size and radical nature, the Edah is also highly influential amongst Charedim. Its kosher certification, for example, is the only one accepted by all streams, and is carried on thousands of basic items, making a boycott — as some have called for — nigh impossible.

So what can be done to put an end to the riot season?

There is certainly a case to be made that the police have been too restrained and given in, too often, to the rioters’ demands, showing them that rioting pays. But the truth is that as long as the Edah has a vested interest in ratcheting up the tension with the state, portraying themselves as victims and challenging the system, you can expect further trouble.

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010