Israel Forms Reconciliation Panel to Halt Secular-Orthodox Conflict

The Washington Post

In an effort to curb an escalating cycle of violence between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews, the Israeli government Thursday established a "public council for reconciliation" in hopes of at least attaining a cease-fire between the warring communities.

However, internecine Jewish clashes continued in the capital, where at least two more public bus shelters displaying advertisements offensive to Orthodox Jews were burned overnight.

In Petah Tikva, scene of some of the most violent clashes between ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews, police said a synagogue was vandalized with spray-painted graffiti signed by the militant secular group calling itself Terror Against Haredim (ultra-Orthodox).

More than 60 public bus shelters have been burned by Orthodox Jews in the last several weeks, triggering retaliatory attacks by militant secular Israelis in religious neighborhoods.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres on Thursday convened an emergency meeting among senior Cabinet ministers, Israel's chief rabbis, heads of the coalition party factions and city mayors.

The conclusions of the group, after meeting for more than two hours, were more declarative than substantive, but some committee members expressed the hope that tensions between secular and religious Jews could be eased.

Synagogue Torched

The emergency meeting was called by Peres after secular Jews set fire to a Tel Aviv synagogue early Wednesday in retaliation for the burning of the bus shelters by ultra-Orthodox Jews who have complained about offensive and sexually provocative advertising posters.

Afterward, council members said there had been a general agreement to maintain the "status quo," a term used in Israel to describe a complex series of locally negotiated arrangements in which Sabbath observance varies widely from city to city, usually in accordance with the level of Orthodoxy in the particular city.

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