Ultra-Orthodox Blame Their Own for Parking Lot Opening on Sabbath

Decision to open Jerusalem lot sparked violent demonstrations over the weekend.

Who are the people who "lent a treacherous and criminal hand to stabbing our holy Sabbath in the back," by allowing a municipal parking garage to be opened in Jerusalem on Saturday? The leaders of the ultra-Orthodox protest against the opening of the Safra Square lot are not pointing fingers at the capital's secular mayor, Nir Barkat - rather, at his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, who belong to the United Torah Judaism faction.

According to the newspaper Ha'eda of the ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist Eda Haredit, UTJ signed secret agreements with Barkat to allow the opening of the garage on the Sabbath. The claim is exaggerated, but not groundless. At their request, Barkat determined that only the Safra parking lot would open, that it would be operated by non-Jews and that no fees would be charged.

However, Sunday, it became clear that this struggle has a dynamic of its own. After the violent demonstrations that broke out Saturday, it seems that UTJ must now toe the line of the extremists. After a meeting with former MK Menachem Porush, whose son lost the city's mayoral election to Barkat in November, the UTJ faction announced that it rejected the understandings reached with Barkat and opposed the opening of the Safra garage on the Sabbath.

Some background: The members of Eda Haredit's coalition of zealous Hasidic sects, living mainly in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, constitute a small minority of the ultra-Orthodox community. The Eda is headed by Rabbi Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss, who is unknown to the non-ultra-Orthodox world.

Justified struggle

From Weiss' point of view, the struggle now brewing is justified even if it does not make Barkat back down entirely. The obligation to protest is one of the "10 commandments" of his sect. Therefore, the struggle over the Safra garage is no different than the one in the 1990s over the opening of Bar-Ilan Street to traffic on the Sabbath, which was supported by all ultra-Orthodox groups.

However, in addition to taking part in protests, the Eda does not want to miss a chance to goad the ultra-Orthodox parties that participate in local and national politics.

"Who would have imagined that those who root out Torah and trample the holy Sabbath would be helped by those who destroy you and bring you to ruination ... by those who are called the 'representatives' of the Haredi public, to turn the holy city of Jerusalem into a disgrace and a humiliation and the holy Sabbath to be trampled within it," Ha'eda wrote at the end of the week.

That was all that was needed to convince Barkat's ultra-Orthodox coalition partners to clarify afterward that they, too, opposed the opening of the parking garage.

The mayor said Sunday that he was "surprised" by the magnitude of the ultra-Orthodox protests. Barkat, who for the first time as mayor has now gotten a whiff of the burning dumpsters in Mea She'arim, was sure that the dialogue he had held with ultra-Orthodox leaders before the parking garage was opened, would douse the spark of protest. Indeed, everything seemed to be going fine until someone in his bureau lit the match - publicizing a naive press statement declaring that the parking garage would open on Saturday with "minimal desecration of the Sabbath."

Barkat's bureau now concedes that such a statement was all the Eda Haredit needed to launch its struggle, which has now grown to include UTJ. Now Barkat will try to put out the fire, to ensure it does not spread to the gay pride parade that is to be held in the capital in two and a half weeks.