A police officer who was lightly injured by an ultra-Orthodox mob in Bnei Brak on Thursday said that while the incident unfolded she “feared for [her] life.”
“There were five minutes where we feared for our lives — we saw the cruelty in their eyes,” Maya Segev said in a video statement released by police on Friday. “We would not have gotten out of there alive if forces hadn’t come to rescue us.”
She and one other officer were traveling in an unmarked car when they were identified as police by the mob.
Segev said they were called “Nazis” by the rioters, who smashed the windows of their vehicle and pelted them with stones.
Meanwhile, new Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai warned on Friday that the wave of violence directed at officers trying to enforce virus regulations by Haredi extremists was intensifying as he called on the country’s leaders to condemn the phenomenon.
“The violence experienced by the police in various recent enforcement activities is worthy of every condemnation and represents something that we cannot and will not accept,” Shabtai said in a statement. “The phenomenon is only expanding.”
“I expect the relevant authorities, public leaders and government ministries to toughen penalties against violators from all institutions we encounter,” he added.
Police locked down the surrounding area as it responded to the incident, which led to further clashes with hundreds of residents. At least six people were arrested for disturbing public order and police said seven officers were injured.
Police Minister Amir Ohana on Friday defended the officers, saying they were exposed to “despicable violence.” However, he noted that the violence was not indicative of the whole ultra-Orthodox community.
The rioters were students of the Vizhnitz Hasidic yeshiva in the town.
The yeshiva’s chairman Rabbi Yokel Weiss condemned the incident Friday, but called the suspects “marginalized people, who were dragged into the terrible violence” in a recording that was leaked to the press.
However, Weiss said the actions of the rioters “were contrary to the way of the Torah.”
The rioting was also condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vowed to act with a “heavy hand” against those who violated lockdown rules and assaulted police, but his ultra-Orthodox political allies lashed out at police over the rioting.
“What we saw tonight in Bnei Brak is a savage and aggressive revenge campaign by incited officers,” Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, who heads the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, raged in a statement.
He accused the police of “collective punishment” against the approximately 200,000 residents of Bnei Brak but said all violence should be condemned, including against the police.
האירוע לא נגמר ויש מרדפים ברחובות וגם רימוני הלם pic.twitter.com/IWbROfuGLO
— Bar Peleg (@bar_peleg) January 21, 2021
Bnei Brak Mayor Abraham Rubinstein said he spoke with Shabtai and demanded an internal police probe into the use of stun grenades. He also accused police of acting out of an “urge for revenge” and claimed the officers’ actions weren’t related to lockdown enforcement.
“Bnei Brak is not a no man’s land where it’s permitted to indiscriminately go wild,” Rubinstein was quoted saying by the Ynet news site.
Police later issued a statement rejecting the criticism and saying that their officers were “brutally attacked.”
Police also said the rioters were “shaming an entire public” and harming the health of ultra-Orthodox Israelis by flouting the lockdown and attacking cops.
The government official in charge of the virus response in the ultra-Orthodox community, Roni Numa, estimated this week that 15% of Haredi schools remained open during the current lockdown and said that some 12,000 ultra-Orthodox students had contracted the coronavirus in the last month.
Police upped their crackdown on the community following media reports of previous lax enforcement, with figures showing that rates of handing out fines in Haredi neighborhoods are significantly lower than for the general population.