May 21, 2023

Note: This is a very important story playing itself out in Israel that has to be resolved by cooler heads now to avoid not only war in the near term, as Allison suggests, but to deal with dramatic demographic and financial implications of the most rapidly growing sector of the Jewish population in Israel, the ultra-Orthodox, who have between 6 and 8 children per family as opposed to 1.5 children per family in the secular Israeli population.

Allison writes:

“Tensions between the ultra-Orthodox community and secular Israelis are hardly new, but the conflict has reached unprecedented levels over the past four months as the groups find themselves in opposing camps in the struggle over the government’s judicial overhaul.

Secular Israelis are incensed over the billions of shekels earmarked for the Haredi community and their educational institutions in the budget set to be passed this week, and legislation enshrining into law gender segregation and exemption from military service for yeshiva students.

Aware of the resentment against their community, ultra-Orthodox leaders have tried their best to keep the flames low. When angry anti-judicial overhaul protesters marched through Bnai Brak – including this past week – they were met with tables of food and drink, and a population under strict marching orders not to respond, even if they felt provoked.

But the mood turned uglier a few days later, on Saturday, in a violent clash in the northern city of Harish. Ultra-Orthodox residents of the Toledot Aharon sect affiliated with a nearby yeshiva walked into a children’s center and began shrieking and chanting to protest that it was open in violation of the Sabbath.

It wasn’t the first time. The clash has been taking place over the past month and videos of the incidents have circulated on social media.

But when members of the two sides began to push each other, at least two of the ultra-Orthodox protesters allegedly assaulted a woman who had brought her children to play, breaking her arm. The men were arrested, according to police, who said more arrests are likely.

Comments on the videos shared on Twitter called for secular Israelis to show up en masse at the center over the weekend to protect the children there as a show of strength.

MK Merav Cohen of the opposition Yesh Atid party publicly warned ultra-Orthodox leaders that if the violence from “extremists” in Harish doesn’t stop, “you are going to force us all to begin jumping on a play center trampoline as an ideological matter. You are going to make us all violate Shabbat and come to Harish to protect the rights of secular and traditional families to spend their Shabbat in the way that they see fit.”

“The eyes of the entire liberal public are on Harish,” Cohen said.

The same eyes were also fixed on the storm unleashed by Channel 12 anchor Galit Gutman, who let loose an on-air rant when discussing the budget allocations for ultra-Orthodox institutions, saying, “How much can you burden a third of this country to support all of the Haredim who suck our blood?”

After ultra-Orthodox groups called for Gutman’s suspension and for the television station to be fined for statements they said were both “antisemitic” and “defamatory,” Gutman apologized, saying her critique stemmed from the fact that she “loved the State of Israel” and that her wrath was aimed at Haredi political leaders alone.

As Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer noted, secular Israelis view their protests as “a preemptive strike on a grim future” in which an overburdened secular minority carries the economic and security load for an entitled religious majority.

Pfeffer asks if the displays of “misdirected rage” by the secular public toward the ultra-Orthodox are ultimately useful or whether they are simply bringing Israel closer to civil war. Productive or not, it certainly looked like the latter.”

Read more about the secular and ultra-Orthodox public:

As Haredi parties’ demand budget increase, their pupils already outpace secular in funding

Hundreds of economists warn Netanyahu’s budget will propel Israel backward

Israeli TV host under fire after accusing Haredim of being bloodsuckers

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