Ultra-Orthodox Jews storm Intel plant
Jerusalem is not just the world capital of religion. The Holy City is also the world’s capital of religious conflict.
Over the weekend, 1500 ultra-Orthodox Jews massed outside a newly-opened Intel plant in Jerusalem in order to protest the chip maker being open on the Sabbath.
The ultra-Orthodox protest was not peaceful. Protesters broke in and ransacked parts of the factory, saving special vehemence for an on-site synagogue installed for Orthodox employees. According to one local paper:
The Jerusalem Post learned that the riots on Shabbat had been far worse than originally reported, and that in addition to the rocks and epithets hurled at journalists and other bystanders, haredim had broken into a synagogue on Intel’s premises, thrown prayer books to the floor and used prayer stands to bash in the doors.
Intel-Israel officials told the Post on Sunday they were shocked by the “pogrom” inside the synagogue and expressed disbelief at the actions of the rioters. Company management said they had photos of the damage caused to the synagogue.
Several journalists and municipal employees were physically attacked during the riot; rocks were reportedly thrown at the heads of multiple correspondents for Israeli newspapers.
When an ultra-Orthodox politician, Deputy Mayor Yitzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism party) arrived on-site to serve as a peacemaker, he was the subject of boos and catcalls. Attendees reportedly cursed him as an ultra-Orthodox Jew who stood by while the plant ws allowed to operate on the Sabbath.
Intel had received multiple threats from different sectors of Israel’s wildly diverse ultra-Orthodox community beforehand. On Thursday, the chipmaker installed a barbed wire fence around the to-be-opened factory in preparation.
Most of the ultra-Orthodox community’s head rabbis advocated the protest and encouraged area Haredim to attend. Even the reclusive anti-Zionist Edah zealots took part.
Israeli Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin is attempting to broker a compromise between Intel and the ultra-Orthodox protesters; this will likely involve some of the under-the-counter dealmaking that is endemic in the Israeli economy. So far, Intel has publicly offered to reduce the number of employees to work on the Sabbath from 120 to 20 per shift and “that none of the employees who worked on the Sabbath shifts would be Jews.” In the eyes of most Israeli ultra-Orthodox Jews, Jerusalem’s status as a holy city means that it is forbidden for nearly everyone to work on the Sabbath — even Palestinians and other non-Jews.
However, money talks louder than prayer. While the masses of ultra-Orthodox rabbis prepared their flocks for protests, the same rabbis quietly gave permission for their female parishoners to work at Intel during the non-Sabbath week. Women needing permission to work in 2009? Charming.
Intel’s decision to open a plant greatly expand their plant in Jerusalem, which caused the protests, was the subject of intensive politicking by the Jerusalem municipality. A brain drain has been taking place from Jerusalem for decades as most companies prefer to operate in the more centrally-located Merkaz (Center) region surrounding Tel Aviv. There is a widespread perception in Israeli business that large companies who operate in Jerusalem will be cut off from the mainstream of Israel’s corporate culture, despite the two cities being only 45 minutes away from each other. Intel reportedly received a series of very generous tax breaks and financial packages in exchange for the expansions at their Jerusalem facility. Intel previously received similar gifts in exchange for opening a plant in the similarly isolated southern city of Kiryat Gat.
Employees were inside the Intel plant when the ultra-Orthodox protesters stormed the facility.