Police on Monday arrested 22 suspects from ultra-Orthodox communities on suspicion they carried out dozens of sex crimes against women and minors over the past two years, but were sheltered from the law by community figures who preferred to deal with the matter in their own way.
Investigators believe that various senior ultra-Orthodox leaders were aware of the suspects’ alleged crimes but did not report them to police or welfare workers, police said.
The early-morning arrests of men aged 20-60 were made in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Beitar Illit, and Bnei Brak, cities with large ultra-Orthodox communities.
As police closed in on the suspects, ultra-Orthodox protesters tried to prevent the arrests by attacking officers and throwing stones at police vehicles, some of which were damaged.
Police suspect that the alleged crimes were not reported at the behest of so-called “modesty guards,” vigilante groups that act to enforce the ultra-Orthodox community’s strict lifestyle regulations of modesty and social behavior without the involvement of law officials or welfare authorities.
Investigators suspect the modesty guards gathered information on the suspects and then took the law into their own hands, deciding for themselves what the alleged perpetrators must do in order to avoid being reported to the police.
In most of the cases, the suspects were ordered to seek therapy from other members of the ultra-Orthodox community, police said.
The arrests came at the end of an undercover operation that began when police became aware of efforts by the communities to monitor and deal with the suspects by themselves.
According to the Hebrew-language ultra-Orthodox website Behadrei Haredim, police arrested a member of the modesty guards six weeks ago and, during a search of his home, found several notebooks listing the suspects and dozens of alleged crimes they had committed.
Police said the suspects would be questioned and some brought before judges to extend their remand. The ongoing investigation will also consider what action to take against the members of the modesty guards involved in the incident, a police spokesperson said.