At least two incidents of abusive attacks against ultra-Orthodox children on public buses have been reported to the police this week, in the wake of the recent storm surrounding several incidents of haredi extremism and the intense media attention that has followed.
Ultra-Orthodox report attacks against children
11-year-old boy approached by two secular men while waiting at a bus stop, struck in the face, Kikar Hashabbat reports.
JEREMY SHARON AND MELANIE LIDMAN • Jerusalem Post
At least two incidents of abusive attacks against ultra-Orthodox children have been reported to the police this week, in the wake of the recent storm surrounding several incidents of haredi extremism and the intense media attention that has followed.
According to a report from the haredi news website Kikar Hashabbat, on Tuesday morning an 11-year old boy, referred to as David L, was physically assaulted by two secular men.
While waiting at a bus stop in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Sanhedriah, David was approached by two men he described as “big, and without yarmulkes or pe’ot (sidelocks).”
According to the boy’s mother, Malka, the two men began shouting at him, and struck him in the face several times. They also attempted to prevent him getting on to his bus although he eventually succeeded on boarding by sticking close to a group of people also getting on the bus.
Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said the boy and his mother came to the police station and filed a complaint later that day. The police opened an investigation into the matter.
On Sunday, Kikar Hashabat launched an email hotline for members of the ultra-Orthodox community to report any incidents of violence or verbal assault against them. Since the hotline was established, the website has reported on numerous incidents of alleged attacks against haredim.
An editorial on the Kikar Hashabbat website last month said that it was launching the hotline in light of “media incitement” against the haredi public and because “as a haredi media outlet, we can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch the fire of hate that is spreading.”
The ultra-Orthodox world has come under intense criticism in recent weeks over a series of incidents involving perceived discrimination against women, as well as extremist agitation against a national-religious girl’s school in Beit Shemesh.
Tuesday’s incident came the day after a similar episode that occurred on Monday, when an 11-year-old girl complained to police that she was attacked on a bus by a secular man. The girl told police that the man spit at her, shoved her and shouted at her “haredim are cursed,” and that they should not travel on buses any more.
Police opened an investigation into Monday’s incident as well.
Ben-Ruby said he did not believe that the two similar incidents were the beginning of a strong backlash against the ultra-Orthodox.
“We’re investigating a few incidents, I don’t know if it’s a wave, but we are investigating them,” he said.
The Yisrael Hofshit religious freedom activist group, which has campaigned vigorously to bring the issue of discrimination against women to public attention and was one of the main organizers of last week’s protest in Bet Shemesh, issued a statement on Facebook on Tuesday condemning “all forms of violence and verbal abuse against the ultra-Orthodox public.”
“There is no place [to attack] the haredi sector as a whole,” the statement read. “In every community and society there is good and bad, moderates and extremists. Our obligation as citizens of the state is to oppose extremism, violence and religious coercion, and to preserve the values of freedom and equality in the State of Israel.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post, Yisrael Hofshit director Miceky Gitzin said that the organization was nevertheless persevering with its campaign to ensure that the government and police act against discrimination towards women.
“It’s not about us and them, we’re not working for any particular sector, we want the law to be enforced,” he said, adding that many complaints he receives regarding discrimination against women come from ultra-Orthodox men and women.
In a conversation with the Post last week, MK Yisrael Eichler, chairman of the United Torah Judaism faction in the Knesset, rejected claims that the ultra-Orthodox world was undergoing becoming more extreme.
“There is no radicalization in the haredi sector,” he said. “What’s happening is that there is radicalization in the secular world against our community, and it’s simply got worse in recent years.”
Eichler also denied that there is widespread coercion of women to sit at the back of buses, arguing that haredi men and women voluntarily segregate themselves.
The MK cited a study, presented last week to the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on which he sits, in which 1,150 checks were carried out in 2011 by inspectors from the Ministry of Transport on 55 bus lines which had been flagged as gender-segregated.
The inspections were carried out according to a High Court of Justice directive in which the male or female inspector deliberately sat in the “wrong” section of the bus.
In 56 instances, the inspector was requested to move seats to the “appropriate,” section, and in 15 cases the inspector complied with the request due to concern that a physical confrontation may have ensued.
Eichler argued that these numbers contradict claims that coercive gender segregation on public buses is widespread.
The boy's claim is somewhat dubious. If this attack took place in front of witnesses, why is it that none of these witness – many of whom would have been haredi – called police at the time the incident supposedly took place? (In theory, the witnesses to the attack on the girl could have been secular and could have chosen not to call police. I also find this a bit dubious, but still plausible.)
Regardless, violent behavior toward children is absolutely wrong and must be condemned.
As for Eichler's claims (and the Post's reporting of them), there are longstanding complaints against the Transportation Ministry for botching – probably intentionally – those inspections.
Remember, it is the Transportation Ministry and Prime Minister Netanyahu who chose to violate the High Court rulings against segregated buses. This was done to ensure haredi political support for the government. It isn't as if the Transportation Ministry is a neutral regulator or an honest broker here, or that Netanyahu can be considered anything but a craven opportunist.
Update 12:10 am CST 1-4-2012 – Here's the Ha'aretz report. Note it claims the boy's school took him to police, not the boy's mother. Also note the attackers are described as teens, while the Post has them as men. And also note there is an excuse for why there are no witnesses given in the Ha'aretz article, but it seems to make little sense:
Haredi boy attacked in suspected Jerusalem hate crime
Boy says two teens beat him with sticks and cursed at him, based on their curses, he believes they attacked him because he is ultra-Orthodox.
By Oz Rosenberg • Ha’aretz
An 11-year-old ultra-Orthodox boy was assaulted at a Jerusalem bus stop on Tuesday. This is apparently the second hate crime in three days by non-religious Jews targeting Haredi children.
The boy, David Lustig, told police that he was waiting for the bus to school "when someone approached me and said 'come here,' but I refused. They approached me, slapped me and started shouting at me."
Lustig said two teens beat him with sticks and cursed at him. They were not wearing the scullcaps of religious Jews, and based on their curses, he believes they attacked him because he is ultra-Orthodox, he said.
The boy's mother, Malka Lustig, said the other people at the bus station, most of whom were ultra-Orthodox as well, did not see the assault because it took place a few meters away. Her son fled his attackers when the bus arrived, she said.
At school, Lustig told one his teachers, Rabbi Moshe Neuber, who immediately took him to the local police station. "He's a charming, gentle soul," Neuber said of Lustig. "He was in shock. I never saw him so confused and shaken."
The police launched an investigation, but Lustig is now afraid to go to school alone.
"I don't want to walk to my Talmud Torah without my mother. I'm afraid they'll beat me up again. I want those people to be caught, so I won't be afraid," he said.
This was the second hate crime in three days targeting Haredi children. On Sunday, an 11-year-old Haredi girl told police she was attacked on a Jerusalem bus by a secular man who spit at her, pushed her and shouted: "We'll destroy the Haredim." The police said they knew who the perpetrator was and planned to arrest him very soon.