Religious “Haredi” Jews clashed on Sunday with Israeli Policemen in Beit Shemesh, a city in central Israel that has become a flashpoint for tensions between secular and moderately religious Jewish Israelis versus conservative, ultra Orthodox Jewish Israelis.
Beit Shemesh is home to different streams of Orthodox Judaism, including this sect that forces women to wear burqa-like veils. While these veils are scandalous to some members of the Orthodox community, members of the Orthodox community have also persecuted young girls they feel are dressed immodestly. Yesterday's riots in Beit Shemesh remind of that internal tensions in Israel are on the rise (photo: Tel Chai Nation blog)
Sunday’s protests began after several prominent members of the Haredi community, an ultra Orthodox group, were arrested by Israeli police for tax fraud and money laundering. Protesters say that the arrestees were deliberately targeted as a provocation against the Orthodox community in Beit Shemesh.
Among the detained was Amram Shapira, the personal assistant of Haredi leader Rabbi Tuvia Weiss. Shapira and other Haredi leaders who were arrested on Sunday were accused of misusing millions of shekels worth of donations to the community.
Protesters tried to set up barricades on several main roads in Beit Shemesh, and threw rocks at police officers when they attempted to intervene. Clashes were also reported in Jerusalem, with Orthodox Jewish youth throwing rocks at police. Four protesters were arrested in Beit Shemesh.
The tension between Israel’s Orthodox community and both the secular and moderately religious Jewish communities has escalated in recent weeks, following reports that ultra Orthodox Jews harass girls, some as young as 8 years old, by using physical intimidation, threats and violence when they deemed the girls clothes immodest. This was despite the fact that the children wear religious school uniforms, which include a blouse with long sleeves and a long skirt.
Hundreds of residents of Beit Shemesh protested last week against what they see as an invasion of their community by ultra-Orthodox elements, who the residents say are attempting to change the character of their city.