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Assaulting an IDF Soldier in Mea Shearim

An incident that yields no thoughtful responses

Adam Chandler
July 10, 2013

Today, it was announced that the Israel Defense Forces would be opening its first pre-military academy for Israel’s ultra-Orthodox citizens. The academy in the Jordan Valley, which will open later this summer, will combine four years of religious study and military training led by a staff of former IDF soldiers who served in a unit for the ultra-Orthodox.

“We are right now in the middle of a gradual and historic process, in which the numbers of the number of young haredi men enlisting to the IDF is continually increasing,” said Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon regarding the opening of the new academy.

The impending enlistment of ultra-Orthodox Israelis has been the cause of some consternation in recent months. How has this consternation manifested itself in part over the past few months? Ironically and violently. After all, how better for some to show a community’s preference for the study of Torah than to riot, burn things, and, in an incident yesterday, accost an ultra-Orthodox Israeli soldier visiting his family in the heart of Mea Shearim?

The soldier was attacked by dozens of ultra-Orthodox men Tuesday night while walking through the central Jerusalem neighborhood. His attackers beat him and threw oil, water and eggs at him before he managed to escape by ducking into an office, changing out of his uniform, and calling the police.

Officers and medics called to the scene were pelted with stones by residents, who called them Nazis. Four men were arrested for allegedly participating in the assault.

The response today hasn’t inspired confidence. A pu pu platter of army representatives and politicians condemned the incident with style points going to IDF Spokesman Yoav Mordechai who asked for haredi leaders to denounce the violence and imagined aloud how the incident would be handled if non-Jews had attacked the soldiers elsewhere in Israel. Substance points went to Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, who warned that anyone attacking soldiers should be punished, but also asked Israeli to withhold their judgment of the entire ultra-Orthodox population.

“It would be no less dangerous to attack haredi society as a whole, when it’s clear that we’re talking about a particularly radical group,” wrote Bennett on his Facebook page. “This generalization is dangerous, friends, we’ve gone too far.”

Unfortunately, where the condemnations mattered most, they were uttered the least. Various accounts sought to downplay the event while reporters following up found little contrition among those interviewed in Mea Shearim. Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri was the only ultra-Orthodox leader to condemn the attack, which he did with some equivocation, placing it within the a cultural war brought about by the conscription bill itself.

United Torah Judaism refrained from issuing condemnations, but Hamevaser, the newspaper identified with the party faction led by MK Meir Porush, published an editorial Wednesday morning decrying the attack. “Violence directed against a fellow Jew is absolutely forbidden, and there is no justification for it,” it read.

The faction’s members themselves, however, refrained from condemning the attackers and rather chose to chastise Deri himself, with anonymous sources in the faction leadership saying, “It’s unconscionable that the chairman of a party that chose to remain silent at the beginning of the week, when the government approved the new and destructive conscription law, immediately steps forward to condemn an incident in which a few insults were shouted at a soldier.”

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.