Against a Bookshop

To say that there are huge differences between the three great middle-eastern monotheisms is, of course, an understatement, but it’s interesting to see how their extremists, at least, can sometimes resemble each other.

The Guardian reports:

A bookshop in a strict ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Jerusalem has come under attack from religious zealots whose “mafia-like” intimidation tactics have created a climate of fear and resentment among members of the area’s business community. The shop, known as Or Hachaim/Manny’s, has had its windows broken twice, its locks glued shut and has been pelted with fish oil by members of the fringe Sikrikim group, an extremist breakaway faction from the ultra-Orthodox Neturei Karta movement, which opposes the modern state of Israel because it was established by man and not God. Since the shop opened in the neighbourhood of Mea She’arim in March 2010, the Sikrikim have been calling for a boycott in an effort to force its managers to remove all English-language and Zionist books, said Marlene Samuels, one of the shop’s managers. They have also demanded the shop shut down its English-language website and erect a sign requesting that customers dress modestly.

“They’re not happy with the large number of tourists that come in here because they feel they’re not dressed modestly enough,” she explained, pointing out that Israel’s English-speaking community and visitors from the US, the UK and other European countries constitute a large proportion of the shop’s clientele.

David Rotenberg, head of Or Hachaim’s English department, said the Sikrikim had also dumped bags of human excrement beside the religious books on display inside the store – “the bottom line on how disgustingly crazy these people are”.

Established in the 1870s by ultra-Orthodox Jews of eastern European origin, Mea She’arim’s residents have retained the conservative customs and dress of the old eastern European ghettos. Life in the insular, densely populated neighbourhood is strictly governed by Jewish law and its patchwork of religious sub-groupings and factions generally resent state interference in their affairs. According to Samuels, while the Sikrikim have no religious legitimacy in the eyes of Mea She’arim’s ultra-Orthodox community – and reportedly comprise just 60 to 100 members – their reach and impact are widespread.

“Everybody suffers from them; this has been going on with other stores for years,” she said. “If people do not toe the line according to their very extreme, anti-Zionist philosophy, they become very aggressive.”

Several shop owners in the neighbourhood told the Guardian they had been harassed by the Sikrikim, but requested anonymity and would not allow their businesses to be named. An employee at a CD and DVD store that opened in Mea She’arim three years ago told how the Sikrikim had held protests outside the shop, blocked customers from coming in, thrown rocks at him and broken the store owner’s car windows because they consider the CD and DVD formats too modern.


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