Journalists from several Israeli networks have reported being attacked in ultra-Orthodox towns and neighborhoods on at least five different occasions in the past week, as tensions in religious communities aggravate over the enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions over the period of Jewish High Holy Days.
The incidents occurred in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim and Kiryat Belz neighborhoods and in the cities of Bnei Brak and Beit Shemesh. The journalists said they were beaten, chased and cursed.
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To date, police have arrested a suspect in only one incident, but have said they are investigating other cases.
'They tried to gag me'
On Wednesday, Army Radio reporter Shahar Glick filed a police complaint after being attacked by a group of Hasidim in Kiryat Belz. He said he was there to cover a mass event that was taking place – in defiance of coronavirus regulations – at one of the Belz Hasidic sect’s facilities.
An ultra-Orthodox man aged about 30 sat next to him on a bench in the neighborhood’s main street and “asked me whether I’m Shahar Glick,” he recalled. “I said yes. It never entered my head that there were bad intentions behind that question.”
The man then took out his cell phone and showed Glick a tweet he had posted half an hour earlier with a picture of Hasidim dancing in a public park. “He told me I’d filmed enough and now it’s time for me to leave.”
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When Glick refused, he signaled to six young men standing nearby, who fell on the reporter and began beating him. Glick said he yelled as loudly as he could, but none of the passersby came to his aid.
“They tried to gag me so I wouldn’t scream and also tried to take my phone” – which they succeeded in doing, he added. They then demanded that he accompany them to a nearby alley, where they removed his identity card from his pocket and photographed it.
“They told me, ‘Now we know your phone number and where you live.’”
Glick said the incident appeared to have been planned in advance. “The man who organized and supervised the attack told me that to get my phone back and get out of there alive, I had to promise not to tell about the attack,” he continued.
The man demanded that Glick show him his phone to prove that he hadn’t reported the incident to anyone. When Glick said he had already written to an Army Radio colleague to say he was being threatened, the Hasid demanded that Glick write the colleague again and say everything was fine.
The men released him only after he sent that message and promised not to tell anyone about the incident, he said. They also threatened unspecified consequences if the story was published.
Glick then left the neighborhood and found a police patrol car and an ambulance waiting just outside. They had apparently been summoned by neighborhood residents.
Police said they viewed any form of violence severely and had opened an investigation upon receiving Glick’s complaint. The investigation has only just begun, the statement added, but they will do everything necessary to bring the perpetrators to justice.
'The first time I’ve felt unsafe in Jerusalem'
The reported attacks come against the backdrop of clashes between the police and ultra-Orthodox communities over the implementation of a government lockdown during the Jewish holidays, with Sukkot on Friday the latest to prompt concern among the authorities.
Ittai Shickman, a reporter for the public broadcaster Kan, was attacked in Bnei Brak on Wednesday along with the photographer who accompanied him. Dozens of children chased them as they were covering a mass event led by Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, and later, the children also attacked their car.
“We tried to get into the car and flee,” Shickman wrote. “Ultimately, it ended with property damage only. But it’s not clear we’ll be so lucky next time.”
Police responded that they had been deployed in the area throughout the event, which they allowed to take place under a previously reached agreement while also working “to keep the peace and uphold the regulations. We’d like to make clear that the reporter arrived after the ceremony ended and after the police had left.”
Also on Wednesday, reporter Liran Tamari from local news website Mynet was attacked while covering disturbances of the peace in Mea She’arim. He narrowly avoided a glass bottle which was thrown at him.
Meanwhile, Pierre Klochendler, a reporter for the i24 TV network, and a photographer accompanying him were attacked by a group of ultra-Orthodox men in Beit Shemish’s Heftziba neighborhood on Wednesday. The men also pelted stones at their car and broke one of the windows.
Later that day, police arrested a 20-year-old man on suspicion of involvement in both that incident and an incident on Tuesday in which a soldier was attacked in the same neighborhood.
In a further incident on Sunday, Yossi Eli, a reporter for Channel 13 television, was attacked while covering disturbances of the peace near Jerusalem’s Shabbat Square. Children kicked his car, and later, someone broke the windows.
“When an angry mob comes at you, you run for your life,” he wrote on Twitter afterward. “This is the first time I’ve ever felt unsafe in the streets of Jerusalem.”