Nir Hasson and Yair Ettinger (Ha'aretz)
March 27, 2017
The police arrested 22 Haredim in Jerusalem and three other Israeli cities on Monday morning, on suspicion of sexually molesting minors and women over the last two years.
In some cases, ultra-Orthodox residents in the four cities - Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Betar Ilit and Bnei Brak - attacked the police, throwing stones and other items, and tried to block the arrests. In Jerusalem, the windows of two police cars were shattered by rocks.
The investigation by the police's Jerusalem District began after they received information that ultra-Orthodox elements were concealing information on sex crimes in their community.
These Haredim allegedly received their rabbis' blessing to seek and collect information on sexual predators in the community, without involving the police. They did so, even maintaining written records of attacks and the people involved. At the end of the process, the perpetrators were forced to agree to undergo therapy within the ultra-Orthodox world.
During their investigation, the police seized the notebooks in which the records were kept. Tens of alleged attackers were documented, some of whom had committed serial offenses, including against children, the police said.
Based on this information, the police arrested 22 suspects, ages 20 to 60. Each is alleged to have committed several attacks over the last two years.
Following the arrests, the police said that the ultra-Orthodox community had been handling the matter internally, collecting information and conducting some form of internal procedure, culminating in a sort of punishment.
The upshot, the statement said, was that the suspects could continue to live their lives without paying a penalty, and dozens of victims were left without help. The police added they will make sure that those arrested are brought to trial.
The records on the alleged sexual predators were kept by a single person - known in ultra-Orthodox circles as a "fixer." This person operates under the imprimatur of a Jerusalem-based body known as the "purification commission" of the community, which operates in different Haredi communities (including the Hasidic and "Lithuanian" sects).
The fixer himself is not a suspect in the case and is not under arrest. He has been in contact with the police for years and testified in many sexual-offense cases, helping the police to achieve convictions. However, it has only become apparent now that he was maintaining a network that would field and investigate complaints about sexual offenses, using old-world methods accepted in the Haredi world.
Usually, offenders "tried" within Haredi circles are forced to undergo therapy, possibly with a psychologist, or might be "exiled" to another city.
The present affair arrives with the Haredi community in the midst of a changing attitude toward sex crimes. This is expressed chiefly by extensive collaboration with the police - even by the more extreme sects.
Another change is the intensive media coverage such cases receive on ultra-Orthodox news sites - though still not in the printed press - and in online forums.
Eli Schlesinger, a reporter for the Behadrey Haredim website, which is notable for its coverage of matters that were once silenced, noted that the purification commission is very helpful to the police and provided officers with information about alleged sexual offenses in Modi'in Ilit last year.
Cooperation with the police is based on the rabbis having faith in the process, Schlesinger said - a faith that might be damaged by the present investigation.