Rage and internal violence in Haredi neighborhoods

The "Hardak" Phenomenon and the next phase in the ultra-Orthodox service conflict

What started as an anticipated and natural debate over ultra-Orthodox enlistment in the army turned into an unruly wave of internal violence against ultra-Orthodox IDF soldiers

Haredim throwing garbage Flash90Haredim throwing garbage Flash90

This unfortunate development is symbolized by a new Hebrew term now used in Haredi communities to refer to their own members who enter the IDF: "Hardak." This title, which is an abbreviation for "Frivolous Haredi", but phonetically conveys the message that those who are so serve in the army are a “Haydak”[ contagious bacteria] or “Harak” [insect]. Several months ago, anonymous groups published posters in ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, warning about these "Hardakim." The posters said, "Keep the area clean…" or "This area is free of Hardakim." Some show an evil looking bearded soldier who chases innocent ultra-Orthodox youth to enlist in the army [reminding the viewer of the images of Tzarist Russia chasing Jewish youth to draft them into the army, and drive them to apostasy]. This campaign has now expanded by launching an art contest for Haredi children, encouraging them to draw pictures that depict attacks on ultra-Orthodox soldiers. The winning pictures will be turned into posters and publicized in Haredi neighborhoods. Samples of such works have been already published, demonstrating how receptive Haredi children are to this dangerous message.

Terror in the streets

The threatening publicity campaign has also become violent. One anonymous Haredi soldier told Ynetnews about his attack when walking home in Bnei Brak. "I'm in trauma. They threw stones at me and cursed me. I walked up the street dressed in uniform and a group of youth started shouting at me 'hardak' and 'shaygetz' (gentile). They started running after me and were throwing stones. I felt that my life was on the line. I am Haredi, I study Torah every day, but it didn’t interest them. The incitement that you read on the walls is now being translated into action."

Another anonymous soldier, "M" also spoke about how he was attacked: "I don’t wish for my enemies to endure what I am enduring these days…from the time that 'equality in shouldering the burden' became an issue, the leadership of the Haredi community countered it with a war of their own. I feel victimized because not only do I suffer but also my family is hurt and are abused. They are trying to persuade my wife to divorce me and threaten to expel my two children from school. Above all of that, there are real threats on my life only because I want to give a little back to the State that has given me so much. " Since the topic came up in the Knesset and public discourse, "M" has been suffering from constant harassment and ridicule. "I have no friends and no community. They have all turned their back to me and I've become public enemy #1. When I enlisted I did not think that those who wanted to hurt me would be the same people that I ate with, slept and studied with but still I cannot describe the feelings of pride that I had in raising and saluting the flag in basic training."


Attention from the higher-ups

The growing violence against Haredi soldiers has received significant coverage in the media and has been addressed by senior officers in the IDF and in the Defense Ministry as well. When speaking to the Peri Committee that recently presented its recommendations for the impending ultra-Orthodox draft, Brigadier-General Gad Agmon warned that "we are in the midst of a de-legitimization campaign against ultra-Orthodox soldiers in the IDF. I fear that in the coming days there will be an escalation that will become more serious to the point of physical casualties." Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon also spoke out against the violence and called on the Internal Security Ministry to properly deal with this growing threat to Haredi soldiers. “We cannot compromise on the struggle against those who are besmirching military service and criminals who attack IDF soldiers," he said. "We must not stand by and watch the rift in Haredi society on the issue of enlistment be accompanied by physical and verbal abuse."

I'm in trauma. They threw stones at me and cursed me. I walked up the street dressed in uniform and a group of youth started shouting at me 'hardak' and 'shaygetz' (gentile). They started running after me and were throwing stones.

 Despite attention from the IDF and government, the threats and rage against the soldiers that are already serving in the army not only continue but rather expand. "Isaac," who enlisted after he left the yeshiva world physically feels the escalation. "I am one of those Haredi men who enlisted based on silent consent by my Rabbis. They understood that a young man like me who does not fit into the yeshiva study lifestyle is better off enlisting in the army so that I can go out, work, and earn a living rather than waste my time. But in the last few weeks, I am scared to death. It started with curses in the street, then a few hoodlums told me to get out of the neighborhood and this week one of my friends who enlisted with me was beaten and stoned…There is an unruly incitement against us on the streets. If the rabbis don't get their act together, this all will end with murder. " Isaac says in fear, "There is no shortage of crazy zealots who think of themselves as the biblical Pinchas (who killed a Jewish man and Midyanite woman for sleeping together) and are confident that they can mend the world and gain entrance to paradise by virtue of such a murder." Interestingly, Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, has used this comparison to explain and justify his murderous act.

One of Isaac's friends, Ephy, also speaks of repeated assaults and a feeling of terror on the streets. "I am confident that a majority of the Haredi population object to this rhetoric and behavior… but it's enough to have one extremist who reads an inciting article in the paper to light a fire that no one will be able to put out…I would like to see the rabbis and the Haredi politicians assume responsibility and stop the incitement.“


Putting the violence in context of religion and state

This new front is another strong indication of the growing conflict over religion and state in Israel. With the rapid growth of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel (26% of all Israeli first-grade students and 62% in Jerusalem) the status quo cannot persist. The 400 military service exemptions granted by David Ben-Gurion in 1948 have become 60,000. The ultra-Orthodox sector, who object to army service because it challenges the paradigm of Torah study and erodes commitment to strict religious practice, now constitute approximately 14% of the potential conscription. With the aforementioned figure of 26% of Jewish first-graders, it is clear why the IDF and defense officials are taking a fresh look at the previously tolerated exemptions. The concepts of equality, constitutionalism, and due process are discussed today with greater emphasis. This was best seen in the historic Supreme Court ruling last year that rejected the military exemptions for Haredi men. Needless to say, this is one of the areas in which the general public feels most strongly as reflected in the recent elections. All of these developments are met by radicalization in the ultra-Orthodox community. This behavior emphasizes the less-discussed rejection of the legitimacy of Zionism, Israel, and its government by ultra-Orthodox ideology and theology. Israel is accepted by many in the ultra-Orthodox community because the State supports their needs and communities but at any point of conflict it is deemed illegitimate and therefore the spirit of solidarity which so strongly motivates the rest of Israel's youth to serve in the army service is reversed when it comes to Haredi leadership.

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