by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
I attended tonight’s “Protest against The Religious or Anti-Women Agenda or …”, well I’m not actually sure what the protest was against, and as far as I can tell the protest didn’t know either.
There were 2 groups with a massive presence: The security forces, who took the possibility of riots very seriously, and the press. There must have been one reporter and cameraman for every 20 protestors, representing Israeli TV, foreign TV, newspapers, photojournalism, etc. You could barely see the stage for the number of cameras set up.
The security forces prepared 2 rings of security around the protest area, blocking any possible interaction between the anti-religious protestors and the ultra-orthodox neighborhood.
(Photo – Outer Security Ring with regular police and border police.)
While the security forces were doing their thing, the buses bringing protestors were dropping them off 2 blocks or so in the charedi neighborhoods. This led to the odd vision of a busload of protestors with signs and attitude marching through groups of charedim standing by bus stops or along the street. There certainly was potential for the odd scuffle or two, but I didn’t see any happen.
(Photo – Walk down to the main protest area.)
The protest area was at the kikar (the traffic circle) in front of the Modern Jewish Religious Girls School which was the primary point of conflict. Beit Shemesh has several large parks and an outdoor ampitheatre which would be great for a protest, but the organizers wanted to be “in the hood”, which has no green spaces to allow a protest gathering.
(Photos – Primary protest area & crowd.)
The protest crowd was an interesting and perhaps unnatural mix. About 49% dati leumi (modern orthodox Jewish), maybe 25% chiloni (non-observant Jewish Israeli), 25% anti-religious violently secular, and about 1% semi-ultra-orthodox or sephardi ultra-orthodox but not wearing hats or black coats.
And there was exactly 1 guy dressed charedi in the crowd, with a black hat, long black coat and long beard…me.
The signs were a strange mix of unrelated ideas. “Take back Beit Shemesh”, “Bibi, I want an inexpensive apartment!”, “One Country, One Land, One People”, “Women are from the Kadimi (political party)”. Some signs were homemade, some where professional.
The speeches were similarly unrelated. Stop the charedim, women’s rights, leftist political agendas, protect the girls.
So what was the attitude? The adults seemed happy to be there and that there was attention, and I had conversations with a few that confirmed this. The older people seemed to glare a lot, angry that Beit Shemesh has changed.
There were two types of young people there. Groups of dati leumi (modern orthodox) youth who were looking to assert themselves, to be pushy, to glare at me and be mildly threatening (after all I was dressed like “the enemy”), to stand up for their community.
The other type was chiloni and/or anti-religious. They came looking for a fight, and if the attitude of the crowd had been negative or angry or the police presence less, they would have found one. As it was the best they could find was cursing the charedim in the distance. (In my case the only bad words I received during the night was from one such group, who informed me “hebrew pejorative for ultra-orthodox are pejorative for women who provide services for a fee”.)
Thank G-d, the protest basically was a bust. The security forces did an excellent job. Attendance was low (estimated at 500-3,000 maximum) and some sudden very cold temperatures meant many left after a short time, keeping numbers low even as more arrived. There was no coherent theme.
And the zealots, who had called for “defenders” throughout Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, seemed to have nobody arrive.
Again, as buses of arriving protestors mingled on the streets of the charedi neighborhood…nothing happened beyond a little bit of glaring at each other. Not because of police presence, because there wasn’t any in those areas. Because, thank G-d, brothers really don’t want to fight and most people are indeed decent.
as of 8:00pm, live from Beit Shemesh, this is Reb Akiva reporting.