A Haredi family participating in a graduation ceremony was attacked Monday evening after leaving the Strauss Campus, the academic arm of the Hadassah Academic College for Haredi students, situated in the heart of Jerusalem's Haredi neighborhoods.
Protesters in the Mea Shearim neighborhood spat on, pushed and chased the family as they left the ceremony, after earlier one of them burst into the hall where the ceremony was taking place and disrupted proceedings.
Academic studies in the Haredi sector remain an issue of some controversy, with several hard-line factions frowning upon them. During Monday's ceremony celebrating graduates of mass communication, business administration and biotechnology, protesters took it a step further became actively disruptive.
David Ben Naim, one of the ceremony's attendees, told Ynet, "An extremist entered and started screaming that academia is bad and tried shutting the thing down. The college's people removed him and locked the doors.
"We thought it ended with that, but when the ceremony was over and we went outside, we found about 60 people standing there and shouting, with the police holding them back from getting into the hall."
Ben Naim, himself a student of the institution, arrived to the event to watch his older brother graduate. He said his family was one of the first to leave, and began moving up the street. "For some reason, they decided we were the event's organizers and the entire group just started chasing us and screaming," he recounted.
Protesters chased Ben Naim's entire family, including his mother, he said. "Later I found out we drew all of the fire, and the others got away quietly," he added.
Violent assault against Haredi students
Police remained close to the hall to head off any riled up protesters, and so the hard-line Haredim found other targets. "At first it was shouting, but you know how it works," Ben Naim said, adding that after he attempted to push off a protester who got too close, "someone jumped (him) from the side and began beating me. Everything was out of a control in a second."
Ben Naim, who captured the beginning of the incident—which he claimed also included spitting—uploaded the video to Facebook along with text describing the evening's events. He wrote, "I was attacked, humiliated, swore at and received bone-chilling wishes.
"One of the things they don't prepare you for when you start a bachelor's degree is the fact that you might be assaulted during your studies. Assaulted by an extremist group of scumbags, which cloaks itself Haredi, observant pretenses that in a moment turns into a display of hate, with you and your family at the very center.
"There's no doubt my arsenal of swear words grew today. When the mess started, I thought they were just assailing anyone leaving the hall, and that the moment I left it would calm down… However, the farther I got from the hall, with this despicable bunch at my heels, the more I realized they simply hate me, my parents, my brothers and really anyone who holds different beliefs.
"People who clearly had sons my age stood there, and wished me things I'm horrified to even repeat. An older man approached my father and told him, 'You wicked man, you'll be accompanying your son (on his funeral)…' God forbid! A puissant 14-year-old boy called out derogatory remarks to my father, who's 60."
'An injustice to Judaism'
Ben Naim said he and his family were called "Hitler" and "Nazis" by the rioters, but that those were "peanuts. These harsh words were uttered by people calling themselves Haredim, people you usually come across collecting money in synagogues.
"The thing that bothered me the most about the whole thing was that people who couldn't be further away from academic studies participated. What business do you—a rotten, action-loving bunch of 'yeshiva students'—have sticking your noses into this kind of protest? In their eyes, you'll always remain third rate Mizrahim/Lithuanians. The moment one of you gets a non-kosher phone near where they live, you'll suffer the same disgrace."
According to Ben Naim, "Being surrounding by a hateful mob that rains swear words down on you and threatens to attack you is not a good feeling. It's not fun absorbing so much hatred in a single evening. It's not fun being attacked by people ostensibly belonging to the same sector as you. It's not fun being in the middle of all of this with your mother shaking in fear and you have to watch over both her and yourself at the same time.
"I despise you, you small, wicked bunch. I'm certain that when you go back home, to your wives, you convince yourself that another day has passed in which you brought salvation closer, gave your life for the Torah and its students. Let me break it to you—you're not! You've desecrated the name of God and have done Judaism, the Torah and Haredi beliefs an injustice."