Rabbi Avraham Rubinstein, the mayor of Bnei Brak, found himself—as he has so often throughout this past year—on a battlefront this week. Once again, the media headlines were blaring about events in Bnei Brak. In the past it was about the coronavirus. This time it’s about vandalism and mass police brutality.
Throughout this past week, Rubinstein has been working tirelessly to calm things down, while also working to maintain cooperation with the police and serving as the conduit for the rabbanim who wrote letters instructing bachurim not to loiter in the streets.
In an interview with Ami, Rabbi Rubinstein describes the events as they unfolded:
“On Thursday, something happened that should never have happened. Some bachurim attacked an undercover police car. This wasn’t just a criminal act; it was also something that stained the population of an entire city. Since the vandalism was recorded, it would have been very simple for the police to find those responsible and arrest them. Sadly, instead of dealing with the group that perpetrated this crime, the police decided to enter the city with a heavy presence. They threw stun grenades onto streets that were full of people doing their Shabbos shopping. They beat up people and randomly arrested passersby for no reason. I reached out to the police commanders with whom I am in daily contact and asked, ‘Why are you doing this? If someone did something wrong, punish him. Why are you collectively punishing an entire city?’”
The mayor added that he promised the commanders that he will have those who were involved in this attack turn themselves in—which is exactly what ended up happening—but they refused to listen to him.
“Why didn’t they want to listen?” I ask.
“Apparently, the police have a policy that if they’re upset about something that they take personally, they must show a strong presence. But this was collective punishment! Bnei Brak turned into a scene out of war that night.”
It is believed by many that this disproportionate response was politically motivated. After all, it was Internal Security Minister Amir Ohana of the Likud who announced that there will be a heavy-handed response. It’s possible that the officers were ordered to show a strong presence in order to show voters that there is a separation between the Likud and chareidi parties. For the Likud, it’s a public relations problem every time the media shows the chareidim not complying with the coronavirus guidelines. The media then claim that the Likud government is allowing for “anarchy,” “autonomy,” and “a state within a state.”
“Is it possible that Ohana gave the orders to show that there’s no connection between the Likud and the chareidim?”
“I don’t know,” Rabbi Rubinstein replies sincerely. “Any theory is possible. However, as mayor, I believe that the police should never have entered with such force, especially when they already knew who was responsible and how to find them.”