Haredi protesters clash with police outside Jerusalem cellphone store

Demonstrators rage against sale of devices that can access the internet; Ben Gvir orders police to probe treatment of protesters

Police guard while Haredi men protest against a cellular shop in Jerusalem's Geula neighborhood, on January 15, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police guard while Haredi men protest against a cellular shop in Jerusalem's Geula neighborhood, on January 15, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men clashed with police outside a Jerusalem cellphone store Sunday evening, as a protest against the sale of phones that can access the internet turned into a brawl.

Demonstrators who gathered on Malchei Israel Street in the capital’s Geula neighborhood shoved officers guarding the store as they attempted to vandalize it, and then began shooting pepper spray and hurling eggs and other objects at the cops, a police spokesperson said.

One person was arrested after being caught hurling eggs at officers. Police eventually managed to clear the demonstration.

The protest was the latest in a series helf 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 the insular Haredi community greater access to the outside world.

The protests ramped up in recent weeks as reforms led 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 hard-right coalition, have promised to swiftly reverse those reforms and others they feel targeted the community.

Following the protest, 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.

Shabtai was told to “check into the matter and get details about what happened as well as a full situational assessment” from officers on the ground, Ben Gvir’s office said in a statement.

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.

As protests against the government’s plans for sweeping limitations to the power of the judiciary gain mometum, Ben Gvir recently complained that police should begin cracking down on anti-government demonstrators who block roads and use water cannons on unruly demonstrators.

“If you use water cannons in Jerusalem [on Haredi protesters], I expect you to do the same in Tel Aviv,” he said last week.

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.

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