After an ultra-Orthodox mob on Friday called his son a Nazi and other slurs for serving in the IDF, former Knesset member Dov Lipman, himself an ultra-Orthodox Jew, says he’s going on the offensive against the small band of extremists behind the recent uptick in violence against soldiers, and working with lawmakers to provide legislative to protect the troops.
On Friday, Lipman’s son Shlomo, who serves in the Golani infantry brigade, left his base, stopped at the family’s home in the central city of Beit Shemesh, and then traveled to Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim to purchase a volume of religious text before Shabbat.
In recent weeks, Mea Shearim has seen multiple attacks — both verbal and physical — against uniformed IDF soldiers by violent extremists from the ultra-Orthodox, also known as Haredi, community. According to his father, Shlomo was aware of that going into the neighborhood and had experienced similar acts in their hometown of Beit Shemesh, which has a large Haredi population, including some radical sects.
“He figured he’d get yelled at. It happens in Beit Shemesh as well. But he never imagined what it would turn into,” Lipman told The Times of Israel over the phone on Sunday.
As Shlomo went into the bookstore, a “mob developed outside the store, blocking the exit,” the elder Lipman said.
They yelled at him to “get out of here,” called him a “Nazi” and a hardak, a Hebrew slur used by and against members of the Haredi community. It is both an acronym for “frivolous Haredi” (Haredi kal da’at) and a portmanteau of the Hebrew words for insect (harak) and bacteria (haidak).
When members of the mob burst into the store after him, an employee led him outside through a back entrance. Geographically disoriented, Shlomo tried to figure out where he was in order to get out of the area safely. But the mob soon spotted him and again started after him.
According to police, in addition to hurling epithets, members of the mob also threw stones at Shlomo. But they did not hit him, Lipman said.
“They didn’t touch him. He didn’t even see the rocks that were thrown,” he said.
A Haredi passerby saw Shlomo on the street, took him by the hand and led him away from the crowd, Lipman said. “I’d love to track him down and give him a proper thank you,” he added.
Volunteers from the United Hatzalah ambulance service then arrived, followed shortly thereafter by police officers on motorcycles who had been called to the scene by residents. When an ambulance from the Magen David Adom emergency service pulled up, the officers told Shlomo to get in, not because he was injured, but because the closed vehicle would allow him to get out of the neighborhood safely. Still, according to police, the ambulance was also stopped by the mob and couldn’t quickly make its way out of Mea Shearim.
Soon after that the mob subsided, and police announced they were opening an investigation into the attack. However, save for the rock-throwers, few people could likely be prosecuted for the incident.
In cases like Shlomo’s the police have little recourse, as people who shout curses at soldiers have not committed a crime. They are protected under freedom of speech laws. (Of course, people who openly threaten or attack soldiers are open to arrest and conviction.)
That is something that Lipman, who previously served as a member of Knesset for the centrist Yesh Atid party, is hoping to change with legislation that would make it “against the law to scream anything at soldiers.”
The former lawmaker noted, “I’m all for freedom of speech, but every society sets boundaries.”
Lipman acknowledged that it was something of a legal minefield, as it could quickly infringe on the rights of protesters.
“It has to be explored carefully,” he said. “It will be a process.”
The head of Yesh Atid, MK Yair Lapid, shared Shlomo’s story on his Facebook page, and Lipman said he had spoken with Lapid about working together on the legislative initiative.
In light of these assaults on uniformed soldiers, the army offers ultra-Orthodox servicemen special permits that allow them to leave base in civilian attire so they can walk through their neighborhoods unmolested. (Arab soldiers are offered similar permits for the same reason.)
Lipman said his son never tried to get such a pass, as he both had never experienced a need for one and because he was ideologically opposed to the concept.
“He’s not trying to be provocative,” Lipman said; his son just believes that within the Jewish state IDF soldiers should be able to move freely without fear of abuse.
Lipman said both he and the police asked Shlomo if he would ever go back to Mea Shearim while in uniform. “He said, if he has to go there and he’s in uniform, he’ll go there. He’s not going to change his overall behavior. But he wouldn’t specifically go there,” Lipman said.
“But my goal is to reach a point where he can — where he and any other soldier can go anywhere and know that they are safe,” he added.
Attacks against uniformed Haredi soldiers have increased in recent months, mostly in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem, but also in Beit Shemesh. The assaults, threats and violent protests by members of the community generally stem from opposition to participating in the conscripted military service Israeli citizens are required to complete.
The former MK said the uptick in attacks on Haredi soldiers is the “last gasp of extremism” as the ultra-Orthodox community becomes increasingly integrated into Israeli society, serving in the IDF, entering the workforce and studying in universities — all in record numbers.
The attacks have drawn denunciation from military officials, the police and politicians across the political spectrum (though conspicuously not from Haredi lawmakers).
According to Lipman, the attacks are a deviation from the norm in the Haredi community. In the past, he said, ultra-Orthodox communities might not have been particularly Zionistic or patriotic, but they recognized that “soldiers are the ones who protect us.”
The “Haredi way,” he said, is for a synagogue to omit the “Prayer for the State of Israel” during its services, but to include the “Prayer for IDF Soldiers.”
Lipman recalled saying a blessing for Shlomo before he enlisted in the military. “It never would have occurred to me that I would have to ask for protection from fellow Jews, and we absolutely have to reach a point where that’s not a concern,” he said.