Jerusalem Riots / Losing Control

While the police officers of the Jerusalem District were trying to begin negotiations with the leaders of the city's ultra-Orthodox community, protest on the streets apparently spiraled out of control yesterday.

The demonstrators were incensed by the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox woman suspected of starving her son.

At 10 P.M., as a rally concluded at Shabbat Square in the Mea Shearim neighborhood, more than a thousand protesters took to the main intersections of Jerusalem, blocking them and clashing for hours with large contingents of police. Dozens were arrested. Meanwhile, the rabbis of the Eda Haredit announced last night that demonstrations against the opening of the Karta parking lot near the Old City will resume on Saturday, for the fourth weekend in a row.

The violence last night flared with mounting accusations against "Zionist rule," the municipality, and the secular public. The recent events amount to an almost unprecedented crisis of confidence, even by the standards of earlier protests in the city. While the rabbis and leaders of the ultra-Orthodox public voice grave claims about the circumstances and the very fact of the woman's arrest, their public became increasingly convinced of the most lurid and visceral accusations against the "impure Zionists." These included hospitals and welfare offices in which tens of thousands of the ultra-Orthodox are served and treated every year.

It's difficult to pinpoint a single reason for this outburst now of all times, but the writing had definitely been on the wall - quite literally. Demonic accusations against the health, welfare and law enforcement services of the city have been plastered on the walls of Mea Shearim since the beginning of the week, three days before the court-ordered gag on the case was lifted. Billboard postings telling of a "plot" wrought against a devoted mother and of "experiments" carried out upon her son, and so on and so forth, have allowed the organizers of the protests to firmly implant such notions in the minds of scores, if not hundreds of thousands, of mainstream ultra-Orthodox.

Unlike the Shabbat wars over the parking lots, in which a compromise may be reached as early as tomorrow, the riots in protest against the mother's arrest appear to have grown from the bottom up - without a lead from the Hasidic community from which they come or an order from the rabbis. This aspect is significant, because it underscores the complete lack of leadership on either side of the divide - both in the ultra-Orthodox community and on part of local authorities.

Although this is beginning to look like a crisis of national proportions, no representative of the authorities has as yet spoken out on the events. Mayor Nir Barkat did not find a way to calm the streets and instead took to issuing a bewildering statement on ceasing all municipal services in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. His ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, meanwhile, are paralyzed due to the indignation they have caused among constituents with their conduct in regard to the parking lots dispute. On the other hand, the rabbis - both mainstream and radical - have been completely silent, with one exception: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Yurovich took to the stage at the Shabbat Square rally last night and called upon the masses to go out, demonstrate and "not hesitate to get arrested .