Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

United Torah Judaism Urges Jerusalem’s Top Cop to Resign

July 15, 1996
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A religious party in Israel’s governing coalition has demanded the resignation of Jerusalem’s top police official in the wake of weekend clashes here between police and fervently Orthodox Jews.

Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani met Sunday with Knesset member Avraham Ravitz to discuss Saturday’s violence.

Ravitz, a member of the fervently Orthodox United Torah Judaism bloc, a coalition partner in the recently formed government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called the police action a “pogrom.”

Some 5,000 fervently Orthodox Jews demonstrated Saturday in the area of Jerusalem’s Bar Ilan Street to protest an order of the High Court of Justice that temporarily prevented the closure of the main thoroughfare on the Sabbath.

Bar Ilan Street, which runs through fervently Orthodox neighborhoods, has become a flashpoint in the increasingly bitter confrontation between religious and secular Jews over what each side views as representing nothing less than the future character of the Jewish state.

Orthodox Jews, arguing for government support of religious law, want Bar Ilan and other streets closed to traffic on the Sabbath.

Secular Israelis, seeking a clear division between religion and the state, argue that the street is a main thoroughfare and must remain open at all times.

After winning an unprecedented 23 seats in the 120-member Knesset in Israel’s recent national elections, the three religious parties called for stricter enforcement of Sabbath observance.

Transportation Minister Yitzhak Levy, himself an Orthodox Jew and member of the National Religious Party, signed an order last week banning traffic on Bar Ilan Street, and on its continuation, Yirmiyahu, for most of the Sabbath and on religious holidays.

But last Friday, the High Court, ruling on a petition by left- wing legislators who cited religious coercion, canceled Levy’s order.

The court gave the government 15 days to explain why the roads should not remain open.

Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, who were visiting the United States last week, were reportedly surprised by Levy’s decision to close the street.

On Saturday, religious demonstrators threw rocks and garbage at police and at a passing convoy of cars driven by supporters of the Meretz Party who had launched a counterdemonstration to keep the street open.

The crowds reportedly beat undercover police officers who had disguised themselves as fervently Orthodox Jews.

Some protesters called the police Nazis. Others shouted “Shabbos, Shabbos” from rooftops and balconies.

Security forces used water cannons to disperse the crowds. Mounted police reportedly clubbed demonstrators to prevent them from blocking the street.

“They were hitting innocent people on the head with sticks, and breaking into people’s homes,” Ravitz reportedly said of police efforts to stop the rioting. “This is not how things are done in a democracy.”

Ravitz, charging that police had used unnecessary force to disperse the protestors, demanded that Jerusalem Police Chief Aryeh Amit be removed from his job.

“He does not understand the delicate relations between religious and secular populations of the city,” Ravitz told Israel Radio. “We’ve seen this in previous demonstrations. He can go to the Negev, but he should not be here.”

During his meeting with Ravitz, Kahalani promised that any complaints against police actions would be investigated.

But he added that he had full confidence in Jerusalem police officers and that their duty was to enforce the law against violations.

Recommended from JTA