When Yoel Kreus was arrested last week in Jerusalem's Mea She'arim neighborhood, his attorney accused police of removing the main organizer of the ultra-Orthodox demonstrations on the pretext of alleged tax offenses.
This week another central wheeler-dealer of the ultra-Orthodox sect Eda Haredit in the neighborhood was arrested on suspicion of tax offenses.
The arrests are indeed part of a new police strategy, led by incoming Jerusalem District Commander Maj. Gen. Niso Shaham, to crack down on the city's ultra-Orthodox zealots, Haaretz has learned.
Shaham and Chief Superintendent Eli Kazari, commander of the local police station, are determined to put an end to the rioting, in which vandals have broken street lights, hurled rocks at store fronts, burned garbage cans and caused damage both inside Mea She'arim and elsewhere.
The sect's extremists have rid the neighborhood of all state and secular symbols, keeping out Egged buses, Bezeq technicians and uniformed police officers.
The police have decided "to break the sect's extremists with methods they use against crime families, which means nabbing them on tax offenses," a senior police source told "Haaretz."
The investigations against the ultra-Orthodox activists were initiated and are conducted by the Tax Authority, which is cooperating with the police, a Tax Authority source said.
So far the ultra-Orthodox community leaders have not protested or posted street posters against the arrests, giving rise to speculation that the crackdown is in the interest of United Torah Judaism leaders in the municipality and Knesset and other anti-Zionist groups.
On Sunday the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court remanded Rabbi Avraham Froelich, another central zealot activist, to five days' custody with out-of-town relatives and instructed him to hand in his passport and a NIS 400,000 bail.
Froelich, a Judaica merchant, is suspected of tax evasions amounting to millions of shekels and of not keeping any account books. His arrest came four days after Kreus was detained on suspicion of tax evasion in his chicken slaughterhouse in the Mea She'arim market place. The entrance of uniformed officers, a rare spectacle in the neighborhood, triggered violent riots in which officers and demonstrators were injured.
Kreus, whom the Tax Authority suspects of millions of shekels worth of tax evasions, was ordered to stay out of Jerusalem for three weeks.
Kreus and Froelich are identified with a marginal, even more fanatic group in the zealot anti-Zionist Eda Haredit, dubbed the Sicarii (a reference to Second Temple Jewish zealots ) although they do not participate in the group's violent acts.
Kreus had been organizing the renewal of the Sabbath demonstrations in Jerusalem days before his arrest, but denounces the Sicarii's violence in the neighborhood, which includes blocking buses, vandalizing computer stores, attacking Knesset members and throwing eggs at ultra-Orthodox women.
Over the years, while police officers cultivated their relations with the official ultra-Orthodox leadership, the Sicarii's power in Mea She'arim grew. Intelligence officers blasted the police approach, which they say fell apart during the 2009 affair of the Eda Haredit mother who was arrested for starving her child.
Police officers have started advocating a tit-for-tat policy regarding the Sicarii, reflected in the tough measures against demonstrators in Mea She'arim in the past two weeks. This policy will be tested in the upcoming Saturdays and during the Gay Pride Parade scheduled to take place this week in the capital.
Unlike Kreus, Froelich is not a field activist. He organizes Judaica auction sales for collectors and heads an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva for married men, in which a number of Sicarii are enrolled. In recent years he has become a confidant of the sect leader Rabbi Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss and was involved in dealing with the community's crises and affairs.
It is not clear whether the two activists' arrest, believed by some to be merely a message for Jerusalem's secular community, will have any effect in the ultra-Orthodox street. So far it has remained quiet.
The sect's only protest was over the city's decision to close down the old slaughterhouse, a historic community institution over the past 80 years.
The sect's newspaper, Ha'Eda, yesterday reported "a pogrom and destruction of the magnificent slaughterhouse."
"Mea She'arim is not 'extraterritorial,'" a Jerusalem police spokesman said yesterday. "The residents' attempts to attack public servants will not be taken lying down."
The Tax Authority said "We deal with any information we have about tax evasions."
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