Why Did Haredim Force Girls to Cover Up at a Jerusalem Ceremony?

Opening ceremony of Chords Bridge featured 12-year-old girls dancing in ski caps and cloaks.

From the standpoint of Jerusalem's non-Haredi residents, the business of the ski caps and cloaks - girls forced to cover up before dancing at the ceremony Wednesday to innaugurate the Chords Bridge - is yet another stage in the city's ongoing fall into the hands of ultra-Orthodox extremists. But as far as the Haredim are concerned, this affair was merely the opening salvo in the mayoral campaign.

This is an internal confrontation between those seeking to become the Haredi candidate in the November elections, led by Mayor Uri Lupolianski (Degel Hatorah), and his deputy, Yehoshua Pollack. Pollack, the right-hand man of MK Meir Porush of the Shlomei Emunim faction in the Agudat Yisrael Party, is waging a dual battle against Degel Hatorah and certain figures in his own party, primarily Agudat Yisrael leader MK Yaakov Litzman. The latter told Haaretz this week, "Pollack is not worthy of being a candidate."

A holy war, even if aimed against 12-year-old dancing girls, seemed a golden opportunity for Shlomei Emunim to gain some Haredi street cred. The ski-cap affair began with the dress rehearsal on Monday, at the entrance to Jerusalem. Haredim from neighboring Givat Shaul watched the show, thereby discovering that "prostitutes" were supposed to appear on stage. They turned to municipal officials and to the mobile news service Hakol Haharedi, and shouted on the air about the "brazenness" and the "terrible harlotry" threatening the city.

The direct culprit, they claimed, is Lupolianski. One Jerusalemite screamed on air that the ultra-Orthodox Lupolianski "sits with prostitutes" and "wants to desecrate Jerusalem at any price" and turn it into "Sodom."

On Tuesday evening, Pollack announced on Hakol Haharedi that he had forced the ceremony's organizers to censor the show. "I'm positive the business is clean," Pollack told the Haredi listening public. "I assure you that if I see even the slightest problem, I, by the power vested in me, will remove them from the stage." Pollack also noted that the ceremony was not intended for Haredim, but rather "for the general public."

Lupolianski was elected five years ago under an agreement between the Haredi-Lithuanian Degel Hatorah and the Hasidic Agudat Yisrael: Hasidim voted for Lupolianski in 2003 in return for the Lithuanians supporting an Agudat Yisrael candidate in 2008. Lupolianski nonetheless hopes to contend the next election, but Agudat Yisrael has made it clear it will not back down.

Shlomei Emunim is confident it will field the next mayor, but Pollack's path to the mayor's office is still a long one, and it includes Agudat Yisrael's party machine as well as Degel Hatorah, which has yet to affirm that it will honor its agreement with Agudat Yisrael.

Meanwhile, Degel Hatorah is accusing Shlomei Emunim of exploiting a minor Haredi grievance over the Chords Bridge ceremony to paint itself as the Haredi guardian of the walls of Jerusalem.

Pollack refutes those allegations: "We got dozens of calls after the dress rehearsal. I was threatened that Givat Shaul's residents would demonstrate across from the ceremony. That's all we needed, for the ceremony to wind up being a disgrace, and especially when the Eda Haredit is accusing us of supporting the gay pride parade. Hakol Haharedi riled up the atmosphere against the mayor, and I took command. To secular people I'm the Taliban, and Lupolianski is the enlightened one. Degel Hatorah should be grateful for my involvement."