The long-running struggle for control of a synagogue in the southern city of Arad spilled over into national politics this week, as haredi leaders condemned Arad Mayor Nissan Ben Hamo, accusing him of unfairly targeting the Gur Hasidic community and blaming him for recent confrontations in and around the synagogue in question.
"This is an ugly case of incitement, and it has unfortunately become a trend in several cities whose mayors think they can abuse Torah-true residents and harass them in every way possible, including preventing them from using appropriate buildings for prayers and educational institutions and harming their political representation,” wrote the haredi daily Yated Ne'eman.
“Worst of all, these mayors attempt to de-legitimize the very fact these haredim live in their cities. These mayors have become world-class inciters, and we can only pray God will save us from their hands.”
Since 2010, members of the national-religious and Chabad communities in Arad have faced-off against local Gur hasidim, who they claim usurped control over the house of prayer.
Protests and angry confrontations in and around the disputed synagogue have ratcheted up tensions in the divided community, with each side accusing the other of harassment and intimidation.
Veteran residents of the southern town who have accused the growing Gur community in Arad of a hostile takeover say the synagogue building has long been shared by both the Chabad and national-religious communities – a status quo they argue was violated by newcomers from the Gur sect.
Mayor Nissan Ben Hamo, who took office in 2015, has backed the claims of Chabad and national-religious residents, drawing the ire of leaders of the Gur community, including Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism).
Now, haredi leaders outside of Gur have endorsed the Hasidic sect in its struggle, claiming the dispute stems from broad anti-haredi bias.
"The haredi community has harshly criticized the trend of Israeli mayors ignoring their local haredi communities, and we strongly oppose this," rabbinic leaders of the non-Hasidic Degel HaTorah faction told Yated Ne’eman. "The case in Arad is an extreme example of the problem, which harms the synagogue's holiness and is therefore of concern to the entire haredi community.”
Despite their endorsement, however, haredi leaders have called upon their followers not to take part in public demonstrations.
"There's a difference between fighting a mayor and holding public demonstrations. Our rabbis have instructed us not to participate in demonstrations," Degel HaTorah leaders told Yated Ne'eman.