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Israel media review

Where they burn buses: What the press is saying about Haredi unrest, more deaths

Fighting between police and the ultra-Orthodox over COVID restrictions appears to step up a notch, with fingers pointed over excessive violence and excessive silence

Police officers stand guard next to burning garbage during clashes with ultra-Orthodox Jews in Bnei Brak, Israel, January 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Police officers stand guard next to burning garbage during clashes with ultra-Orthodox Jews in Bnei Brak, Israel, January 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

1. Quiet on the riot: Ultra-Orthodox rioters appear to have skipped past the flaming diaper stage of rioting and gone straight to setting buses on fire and attacking police in their own communities. The major offense that they are protesting against: attempts to enforce coronavirus regulations that are in effect in every other community in the country.

  • The rioting has gripped the press, with videos of unrest in Jerusalem making the rounds on Sunday, followed by an incident in which a cop was forced to fire in the air in Bnei Brak, and finally an attack on a bus driver and the torching of his bus in the same city overnight.
  • Channel 12 calls the incidents and the rioting a “stepping up of ultra-Orthodox violence.”
  • Cops are also quoted making it clear that they see the local leadership as responsible for the rioting.
  • “We are bolstering forces where needed. We sent very large forces of police to the cities where there is widespread unrest,” senior police official Ziv Sagiv tells Ynet. “I definitely see the religious leadership failing to help, a faith-educational leadership that has lost control, and sometimes, one can say, has also irresponsibly supported and ignited attempts to harm the rule of law.”
  • The head of the police investigations division, Roy Waldman, tells Channel 13 news that “there’s anarchy in the streets” and decries what he calls “a state within a state.” But he places most of the blame on the Vizhnitz sect of Hasidim and the hardline Jerusalem Faction.
  • Former police chief Aryeh Amit tells Army Radio that “It’s enough with using the term ‘small group,’ because this is nonsense. These are thousands of rioters who are uninterested in Israeli laws, they look to rabbis and to no one else.”
  • Israel Hayom, which is closely aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, runs a column by David Zildon urging the Haredi leadership to thank, not spank, the cops, and certainly not keep silent: “While cops are risking their lives to protect you and keep the virus from taking your lives, you are keeping a loud silence and not condemning the attacks on the cops, and thus are full participants in the [violence.]”

2. Down with public transportation? If it bleeds it leads, and so too if it smokes, it seems. While the ultra-Orthodox unrest has been a simmering issue for several days, it took the smoking gun and smoking bus to make it into a Major Story. Bus driver Eyal Zippori’s comments on the incident are plastered at the top of most Hebrew-language news websites Monday morning.

  • “I don’t know how I am alive now. They threw stones, broke the door and windows. One of the rioters got in the bus and started to kick and punch me,” he tells Kan radio. “This was a terror attack in every sense of the word.”
  • “I am injured mentally and physically. I got out of there by the skin of my teeth,” he tells Channel 13 news on Monday morning. Walla quotes the bus drivers’ association saying that they “have become cannon fodder.”
  • Channel 12 news notes that the Haredi reign of terror against modes of public transportation was not limited to Bnei Brak, publishing pictures of an attacked light rail train in Jerusalem and reporting that rioters poured concrete on the rails to sabotage them.
  • “Has the man of faith forgotten the most important commandment: Don’t murder???” tweets Channel 13’s Yossi Eli.
  • And there are also videos of Haredi rioters attacking journalists.

3. Black (hat) vs. blue: Some reports note that firefighters took a while to arrive, despite the flaming bus posing a danger to area residents. Ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar Hashabbat calls it a “form of revenge” from the authorities, underlining the ultra-Orthodox community’s blaming of the cops and not the protesters for the violence.

  • Some ultra-Orthodox TV interviewees use Holocaust imagery to describe alleged excessive force used by cops.
  • Nathan Rosenblatt, a resident of Modiin Illit, tells Channel 12 news about “the Kristallnacht that the police carried out in Bnei Brak last week.”
  • A representative of the extremist Jerusalem Faction accuses cops of carrying out “pogroms,” in an interview with the network.
  • Shas MK Michael Malkiel tells Kan that “they are coming uniformed into a crowded city like Bnei Brak, throwing grenades, hitting people mercilessly and taking kids and tossing them into the air.”
  • In Haaretz, in a piece published a few days ago while the riots were still at a smaller simmer, Anshel Pfeffer explains that Haredim place their faith in keeping the Torah above all, with preserving life defined as spiritual life: “No exterior force can be allowed to dictate how the Haredim live. The rabbis and their political representatives insist that this is how Jews have always lived. They are just preserving ancient tradition. But no Jewish community has ever allowed itself to so openly oppose the government. It’s a new creation, a Haredi autonomy, enabled and funded by the Israeli government.”
  • Bnei Brak deputy mayor Gedalya Ben Shimon tells Army Radio the real problem: “You can’t fix spiritual damage. Every family has 10-12 people, but no Zoom, Netflix or YouTube. The difficulties are doubled and then some.”
  • But in Israel Hayom, also writing a few days ago, Avishay Ben Haim says the problem is too much media, at least mainstream media, which he accuses of inciting the cops to attack the ultra-Orthodox and bringing the country “the closest it’s ever been to civil war.”
  • “Report after report, broadcast after broadcast, the demand was made that the Israel Police clash with the Haredim, and that is what ultimately took place. While the media hegemony is not the only, or even central, factor responsible, its role in getting us to this point in Haredi-secular relations, and at a time when there was a chance for things to turn out differently, cannot be ignored,” he writes.

4. A thousand more to mourn: It is not the clashes with the ultra-Orthodox that grace the front pages of both major tabloids Yedioth and Israel Hayom, but rather the fact that Israel recorded 1,000 deaths in January.

  • “1,000 deaths in one month,” reads the front-page headline in Yedioth, though in actuality, it’s much worse than that, with 1,000 deaths recorded in the last three weeks.
  • Israel Hayom calls it “black January,” and notes that Israel hit another record with 1,200 people in intensive care. Or there should be that many, with not enough room in ICUs for all the patients in serious condition.
  • “We don’t have enough beds for intensive care. We need to choose between people who will get the bed,” the head of the coronavirus ward at Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital tells Israel Hayom.
  • EMT Aaron Adler tells Army Radio that he had two COVID-19 patients die on him in quick succession on Sunday: “I never imagined in my life that something like this could happen in Israel. Even before the departed was taken from the bed there was another hospitalized person waiting for it.”
  • Health Ministry official Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis tells Kan that the quick spread of the virus can be blamed on the UK variant, which is being found in some 50 percent of cases, especially among the ultra-Orthodox.
  • “The vaccine works against the British variant, but the pace of the spread is much faster than the pace of the vaccine,” she says. “We have no control over the UK variant.”
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