Arson (illustrative)
Arson (illustrative)iStock

On Thursday night before Simchat Torah, a minimarket went up in flames in the southern Israeli city of Arad. The store belongs to a Gerrer chassid; Arad is home to a large community of Gerrer chassidim. They allege that the fire was deliberate arson, motivated by the ongoing incitement against the haredi community in the media and the community, with haredim being blamed for the spread of the coronavirus.

The store was utterly destroyed by the fire, with damages amounting to over NIS 1.5 million. The store is located in a shopping center with many other establishments also owned by Gerrer chassidim, and indeed a bakery and another store – both owned by Gerrer chassidim – also suffered damage from the fire.

A local resident from the Gerrer community told the haredi news website Kikar Hashabbat that: “In recent months, there has been a series of arson attempts and other criminal attacks on businesses in Arad. The feeling is that they are the result of both local and national incitement against haredim.”

He noted that, “Police have arrested a suspect in last week’s arson – a 17-year-old youth from Arad – without specifying his motives. But the writing was already on the wall before this last attack, and to us it’s obvious that the youth was motivated by hatred of haredim that is being stoked by various elements in the city and in the country as a whole.

“In the last half year, there have been several other instances of arson,” he added, “including one on a vegetable store and another on a different minimarket, both owned by Gerrer chassidim – and not a single instance of a store owned by a secular proprietor being damaged. There have also been other criminal attacks against establishments owned by haredim.”

Singling out the haredi community for especial censure during the coronavirus epidemic has not focused on any particular community for the most part, and therefore even though the Gerrer community in Arad has been praised by both police and local residents for their adherence to the guidelines designed to curb the spread of the disease, they have been targeted nonetheless. In general, the community prefers to keep a low profile, but Kikar Hashabbat notes that senior members in the Chassidut are coming to the conclusion that action must be taken in order to protect those in the Arad community from ongoing attacks.