Fresh clashes between Haredi protesters, police outside Jerusalem cellphone shop

Law enforcement accuses protesters of ‘cynically using little kids on the front line’ during latest demonstration against phones with internet access

Police clash with ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting against a cellphone shop in Jerusalem's Geula neighborhood on January 16, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police clash with ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting against a cellphone shop in Jerusalem's Geula neighborhood on January 16, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Fresh clashes between ultra-Orthodox men and police erupted in Jerusalem on Monday evening during a demonstration against the sale of phones with internet access.

A police statement blamed “extremists” for the violence and said officers tried to allow for peaceful protest “but at a certain stage the demonstrators began to riot” and attempted to damage the shop.

The force accused demonstrators of “cynically using little kids on the front line” while attempting to interfere with traffic and scuffling with officers. Video from the scene showed children in contact with officers at the front of the protest.

“Additionally, the rioters blocked the road and threw an object that damaged a passing bus,” police said.

Officers were working to clear the protesters, who police said threw a plastic bottle and hurled invective toward officers after being ordered to disperse.

“The Israel Police will continue to allow freedom of protest within the limits of the law, but will not allow vandalism, violent rioting or any attempt to harm business owners, citizens or officers,” the police statement said.

No arrests were announced.

The protest was the latest in a series held outside cellphone stores in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem, where some puritanical religious leaders have sought to block the sale of phones or other devices that could give members of insular Haredi communities greater access to the outside world.

The protests ramped up in recent weeks as legislative changes enacted by the previous government — meant to integrate ultra-Orthodox consumers into the broader cellphone market — had been slated to take effect. Haredi politicians, now back in power as part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition, have promised to swiftly reverse those changes and others they feel targeted the community.

After a similar protest on Sunday, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, whose authority extends to the police, instructed Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to investigate videos that appeared to show protesters being manhandled.

Ben Gvir, leader of the far-right, religious Otzma Yehudit party, has pressed police on what he claims is a double standard regarding how left-wing protesters in Tel Aviv are treated versus ultra-Orthodox demonstrators in Jerusalem.

A senior police official denied any double standard, telling Channel 12 news that police in Jerusalem sometimes use more heavy-handed tactics due to the more combative nature of protests there as opposed to Tel Aviv, where organizers normally come to an agreement with police on blocking roads for a short period before dispersing. Massive anti-government protests on Saturday night passed without any major incidents.

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