Politicans Rally With Jewish and Christian Clerics Against Clergy Abuse

Meeting spurred by complaints from churches of harassment toward them by ultra-Orthodox Jews.

A rare meeting between clerics from various churches, representatives of the Foreign Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality, and a rabbi belonging to the Eda Haredit anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox stream gathered last week in Jerusalem in an effort to stave off a diplomatic crisis between Israel and a number of foreign states.

The meeting was spurred by the growing number of complaints from churches in the vicinity of Jerusalem's Mea She'arim quarter about violence and harassment toward them on the part of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

These churches are located outside the Old City walls and in proximity to the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, and include Polish, Ethiopian, Romanian and Russian places of worship. They have recently encountered serious harassment and violence in the form of spitting and curses aimed at nuns and monks, a dead cat thrown into one church's courtyard, anti-Christian slogans spray-painted on walls, and stone throwing.

In recent months, when demonstrations by members of the ultra-Orthodox community were seen against the operation of a parking lot on the Sabbath and the arrest of a woman accused of starving her child, attacks on Christians intensified as well.

News of the harassment of the clergy was published abroad and met with shock. Complaints were lodged with the Israeli embassies and began piling up at the Foreign Ministry.

Poland's honorary consul in Jerusalem approached Avraham Kroizer, the mayor's adviser on ultra-Orthodox affairs. The latter turned to members of the Eda Haredit and to Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir, director of the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, closely tied with the group.

Eda Haredit representatives denied that members of their community were involved, but said it was possible that "fringe youth" who had participated in the demonstrations were causing the problems.

In recent years, and particularly in the past few months, there have been several incidents in which Palestinians have also been attacked in the area separating the western and eastern parts of Jerusalem. Agmon-Snir and Kroizer said it was not by chance the appeal had been made to the Eda Haredit, even if they were not responsible for the attacks, because rabbis from that community could lead other ultra-Orthodox to follow in their footsteps.

Later last week, Rabbi Shlomo Papenheim, a member of the Edad Haredit leadership, met at the Jerusalem municipality with Kroizer and the mayor's adviser on religious communities, Jacky Avrahami. Mayor Nir Barkat also attended. Papenheim brought a letter from rabbis of the community's religious tribunal denouncing the violent attacks. The letter also mentioned violence on the part of youths in the Sheikh Jarrah quarter of East Jerusalem, where Rabbi Shimon Hatzadik's grave is located.

"In addition to the desecration of the Lord's name that is involved," the letter states, "our rabbis, may the memory of these righteous men be a blessing, have already forbidden harassment of gentiles."