Riots erupt after ultra-Orthodox leaders arrested over tax fraud

Nine Haredi protesters held in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.

Haaretz, Israel/January 16, 2012

Two leading extremist ultra-Orthodox figures were arrested on Sunday on suspicion of tax fraud and money laundering, sparking Haredi riots in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.

Shmuel Lubetzky, a leader of the anti-Zionist Haredi sect Neturei Karta, and Amrom Shapiro, the personal assistant to Rabbi Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss, the leader of the separatist Eda Haredit movement, were among several Haredim arrested on suspicion of the fraudulent use of donations worth tens of millions of shekels.

The arrests capped a months-long secret investigation by tax authorities and the Israel Police.

Ultra-Orthodox sources said their community would not accept the arrests, which they described as "a dramatic escalation of police monitoring" of Haredim.

Nine ultra-Orthodox protesters were detained on Sunday over attacks on police officers, as hundreds of Haredi men gathered in Jerusalem's Shabbat Square to block roads and burn trash and about 200 more scuffled with police in Beit Shemesh.

Some threw rocks at police officers and several poured oil on Beit Shemesh streets in an effort to disrupt traffic.

The riots began a few hours after the arrests were reported, when several dozen ultra-Orthodox men held a prayer and protest vigil near the police station in Jerusalem's Russian Compound neighborhood, saying they wanted to be close to the detainees.

"We are protesting the police force's brutal assault on the holy sages of Jerusalem," said one participant in the vigil.

Weiss told his followers that Shapiro's arrest is tantamount to Weiss having been arrested himself, which Haredi sources said constituted a call to the ultra-Orthodox to carry out an unflinching struggle against the police.

Toward evening, a large group of Haredi protestors marched toward Jerusalem's Shivtei Yisrael street and tried to block it off.

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