Ultra-Orthodox Critics: Haredi Officials 'Provoked' Seculars Over New Israeli City

Sources say Haredi committee's 'premature' attempts to secure homes in northern city of Harish, near Wadi Ara, stalled construction.

Ultra-Orthodox sources last week blasted Haredi officials who had submitted bids for tenders for lots in the planned new city of Harish. These bids were made by the Haredi Housing Committee, a conglomerate of several nonprofit ultra-Orthodox organizations, which had banded together in order to fix housing prices in the new city.

Critics say the committee's actions have stalled construction plans for the new city, sited in the Wadi Ari area. Shas has also issued harsh words, a rare occurrence in a party which prides itself in demonstrating unity. Although the government says the mooted northern city is open to all Israelis, critics contend that it is being planned as a Haredi city. 

“Several Haredi functionaries acted prematurely, accompanied by a media campaign touting their achievements in bringing salvation to their communities. This only harmed their cause and caused tension between different sectors”, says Rabbi Asher Idan, head of the national Kol HaNa’ar organization. Idan is a well-respected figure, responsible, on behalf of Shas, for children who drop out of schools and are not picked up by the welfare authorities. “The recent Haredi campaign over Harish only served to provoke the secular sector and ended up stalling the plans for a Haredi city. In addition to these plans, a secular city should have been planned as well”, Idan says.

“A cabinet minister has to act with the interests of all sectors in mind. Marketing thousands of apartments for the general public is the right way to go, but targeting only one sector is a mistake”, he adds. “All the premature talk about Harish caused great animosity, and even if Haredi families move in, they will end up having to pay NIS 700,000 for apartments, instead of NIS 400,000 or NIS 500,000, as per the original plan. I assume the Housing Minister [Shas' Ariel Atias] and other Shas officials had good intentions, but all their talk was damaging and not well received. Secular people want to see equality in burden sharing and in financial benefits, and so do we.”

Rabbi Idan, from Tiberias, is a colorful personality in the ultra-Orthodox community, and has been involved in several provocative actions in the past. He was involved in a confrontation with the mayor of Tiberias over the status quo between the city's secular and religious residents. He has also tried to lower the legal marriage age for girls, as a means of relieving financial strain in Haredi families. He also rebuked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for staying in a hotel that lacked kashrut certification.

Nevertheless, he serves as the rabbi of several congregations in Israel, and is highly regarded in Shas, which made him responsible for the education of school dropouts.  He was part of the modern day Sanhedrin council of rabbis, and has written many books on education and weekly Torah portions. His name cropped up recently in discussions of Am Shalem leader Rabbi Chaim Amsellem, who has based many of his proposed policies on Rabbi Idan’s writings.

Nir Keidar