A Day After Violent Protest, Haredi Coverage Ranges From Delicate Criticism to Complete Disregard

Some 30,000 took part in Jerusalem rally against military conscription of yeshiva students; eight demonstrators to be charged with assaulting police and disturbing the peace.

A headline in a Haredi newspaper Friday read, "Tens of thousands of faithful Jews in huge demonstration – the likes of which has not been seen before – for the sake of the world of the Torah and against the conscription." The heading referred to a protest that turned violent in Jerusalem Thursday of the government's plans to conscript yeshiva students into the army.

The newspaper, Hapeles, did not mention the acts of violence by hundreds of protestors that resulted in injuries to at least 10 policemen and three protestors.

The protest was widely covered by both Haredi and non-Haredi newspapers in Israel. An exception was Yated Ne'eman, which neglected to mention the protest, as the event had not received the blessing of Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, who heads a Lithuanian Haredi faction.

Meanwhile on Friday, the Jerusalem Magistrates Court released the eight Haredi demonstrators who were arrested during the Thursday protest. The eight will be charged with assaulting police officers and disturbing the peace.      

Eda Haredit, the umbrella group of the extremist ultra-Orthodox factions in Jerusalem led by Lithuanian Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach and Hapeles' target audience, was at the forefront of organizing the protest. Among the most violent gatherings in Jerusalem and certainly the strongest display of Haredi opposition to draft proposals in recent years, the protest attracted more than 30,000 people, according to police estimates. The mainstream Haredi factions – which follow the rulings of Shteinman, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Hasidic leaders like the Admors of Gur and Belz – did not participate.

Haredim of all stripes have been worried about renewed efforts to "share the burden," or draft yeshiva students into the Israel Defense Forces, since the Supreme Court ruled the Tal Law, which exempted them from such duty, unconstitutional in February 2012.

In contrast with Yated Ne'eman, two other dailies affiliated with the United Torah Judaism party – Hamodiya and Hamevaser – covered the protest on their front pages. Both papers quoted speeches by rabbis there and reported the acts of violence. Hamodiya handled the subject delicately, saying, "The rabbis called not to, God forbid, adopt any actions that could desecrate the name of God" and explained that the protest was against those who were trying to draft yeshiva students. Hamevaser dedicated a special box to the violence with the heading "Doubts and disgust at the deviant behavior of the very few."

The most extensive coverage was by Hapeles, which represents the Jerusalem-based Lithuanian Haredi faction that rivals Steinman's faction. Its leader, Auerbach generally takes a militant line on the draft; while Steinman believes it should be opposed using other methods. Auerbach's faction is much smaller than the main Lithuanian faction, but has enlisted tens of thousands of people to its cause. Several leaders and rabbis more commonly associated with the Agudat Yisrael party took the stage during the protest.

In addition to featuring the protest on its front page, Hapeles dedicated five interior pages to aspects such as the main speeches, including Auerbach's, and the resolutions that were presented.

But the violence went unnoted by the newspaper's reporters, who wrote, "Close monitoring by a team of stewards chosen by the organizers ensured the respectable nature of the mass demonstration," and, "At the end of the demonstration the resolutions were read, and the huge crowd of tens of thousands dispersed in an exemplary manner."

Throughout the protest, police were pelted with rocks, bottles and shards of glass and called "Nazis." They demonstrated restraint throughout the demonstration, even when the violence peaked at the end. At that point, they drove rioters toward Shabbat Square amid lengthy, violent clashes.

Hapeles also dedicated its editorial to the protest, saying the Torah and its followers must be protected from government attacks intended to "uproot [the devout] from their studies and hurl them into a destructive environment" and vowing, "We will continue to protest so that, God forbid, we do not reach a point where we cry over the past – 'our hands did not shed this blood.'"

Oren Nahshon