Tuesday, November 24, 1998

The Immodest Squad

Ha'aretz Editorial

"The Modesty Squad," a secret organization that settles accounts with ultra-Orthodox who stray
from the lifestyle of the sect, has launched several attacks in recent weeks. Two days ago, the squad
set fire to an apartment rented by former Haredi Karni Ben-Zion, who lives in an ultra-Orthodox
neighborhood. A few weeks prior to the arson, masked Haredim beat Ben-Zion and some of his
friends so badly that they needed medical treatment. Though the beating took place three weeks
ago, the police, who say they have "more than a slim lead," have not succeeded in apprehending the
guilty parties.

Karni's landlord had received several threatening letters from Haredim in recent months, warning him
that if he continued to rent to secular tenants, he would "pay a heavy price." Despite the warnings,
the police did not succeed in preventing the arson that took place this week.

Two weeks ago, dozens of Haredim broke into the homes of four Christian women in Mea
She'arim. They burned and looted two apartments in broad daylight, unchallenged by neighbors and
passersby. At the time, the Jerusalem police arrested several suspects, but to date there have been
no signs of significant progress in the investigation. Appearing before the Knesset Internal Affairs
Committee, police said they suspected that some of the perpetrators have "gone underground,"
probably outside of the city.

It looks like the increasing intolerance in Jerusalem - which has also reared its ugly head elsewhere in
Israel and has led to injuries to Ethiopians, Russians and Arabs - is symptomatic of a broader social
ill. If proper attention is not devoted to treating the disease, violence in Israeli life could become a
daily occurrence.

Every indicator of latent violence in the Haredi sector, and every blatant manifestation of violence,
has grown. In the past, the ultra-Orthodox set fire to advertising posters and threatened businesses.
Now, they are breaking into and burning private homes, attacking and beating people. Their
community does not condemn these acts. Ben-Zion's neighbors warned him that if he continued to
live in their neighborhood, they would enlist the aid of the "Modesty Squad."

Jerusalem police have not yet caught the individual or individuals who last May placed an explosive
device on the doorstep of several young Arab women living in the Musrara neighborhood. This
despite the repeated harassment of the women by Haredi residents of Mea She'arim and repeated
complaints to police. As in the case of Ben-Zion, the attack on the Arab women's home was
evidently intended to cause harm to people rather than to property. In both cases, the action took
place in the middle of the night, when the tenants were assumed to be asleep in their beds.

Because no one has been charged in either of these cases - despite a rather small pool of potential
suspects - it is hard to give credence to the statement of Jerusalem Police Chief Yair Yitzhaki, who
said that he "sees these incidents as very serious, and the best detectives are taking part in the

Given this, it is hard to imagine how a more complicated investigation might turn out. We can only
hope that what looks to be a failure by the police is not a product of the police taking Haredi
violence lightly.

However, the police are not the only ones responsible for putting an end to hatred and violence. It
would certainly be appropriate for more public figures to condemn the bullying and brutality of the
"Modesty Squad" and those who send them on their missions.