Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews scuffled with police, tossed stones and tried to block off roads in Beit Shemesh on Sunday, after six prominent members of the community were arrested earlier in the day on tax fraud and money laundering charges.
Four persons were arrested during this round of violence in Beit Shemesh. Sunday evening's riots followed a long day of scuffling and arrests in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.
The prominent ultra-Orthodox figures are suspected of committing a number of economic crimes for years - they are accused of fraudulent use of contributions worth tens of millions of shekels. The two leading suspects are Shmuel Lubitzki, a leader of the extremist Neturei Karta movement, and Amram Shapira, who is the personal assistant of Rabbi Tuvia Weiss, head of the Haredi community Beit Din.
Haredi sources explained Sunday that the arrests on money laundering and tax fraud charges are convulsive events, especially since some of the suspects are closely connected to Rabbi Weiss, a preeminent Haredi figure. The sources vowed that their community will not tolerate the arrest of its leaders; the arrests, they explain, constitute "a dramatic escalation of police monitoring" of the ultra-Orthodox.
A few hours after disclosure of the arrests, several dozen members of the Haredi community flocked to the Russian compound in Jerusalem, to conduct a prayer and protest vigil close to the detainees. "We are protesting against the police force's brutal assault on the holy sages of Jerusalem," one Haredi man declared. Rabbi Weiss told his followers that Shapira's arrest is tantamount to him himself being detained. This statement, Haredi sources explain, constituted a call to the ultra-Orthodox to carry out an uncompromising struggle against the police.
In tandem with the vigil at the Russian Compound, ultra-Orthodox men carried out protests in Beit Shemesh, in locales marred by unrest two weeks ago. Several dozen Haredi men poured oil onto streets in Beit Shemesh, with the apparent attempt to disrupt traffic. Police forces in Beit Shemesh scuffled with the religious protestors; they arrested three protestors.
Shortly thereafter, a mass Haredi protest was staged at Kikar Shabbat (Shabbat Square) in Jerusalem. Toward the end of this protest, hundreds of demonstrators blocked roads around the square, and burned trash in the street. Large numbers of police were deployed, and three persons were detained.
The arrests of Shapira, Lubitzki and other suspects came at the end of a months-long secret operation carried out by tax authorities and police.
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