Orthodox launching war of words against chief justice

Yeted Ne'eman called the chief justice a "dangerous enemy" of religious Jews.

The ultrareligious, or haredi, community maintains that Barak and the Supreme Court have issued rulings that violate the beliefs and needs of Orthodox Jews.

Religious Jews have assailed Barak about his rulings recognizing gay rights and women's rights.

But the hostility toward the chief justice boiled over with the court's recent decision to keep Bar Ilan Street, a main Jerusalem thoroughfare that passes through religious neighborhoods, open to traffic on the Sabbath.

The court's ruling overturned a decision by Minister of Transportation Yitzhak Levy of the National Religious Party to close the street during hours of prayer on the Sabbath and holidays.

"Democracy is over. The people's rule is over," the Yeted Ne'eman article said. Barak "decides for me and for you on what we are allowed to think and for what we are allowed to struggle."

Hashavua said Barak "is the main force against Jewish conceptions…The assault against the decisions of the high court should concentrate on Barak, who is most dangerous to democracy and freedom."

The newspaper called Barak an "acceptable target" for criticism.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended Barak.

"We are a nation of law and the Supreme Court is a cornerstone," he told Army Radio. "We won't allow harm to come to this important central establishment."

Finance Minister and former Justice Minister Dan Meridor also condemned the attacks on Barak.

"It is a system of grave incitement and I don't recall anything like it," Meridor told Israel Radio. "It is an attempt to shake the foundations of the rules of the game of Israeli society."

Orthodox party leaders, while denouncing violence, said their community had a legitimate right to voice its views.

The real issue is the "delegitimization of the religious people in Israel," Knesset member Avraham Ravitz of the United Torah Judaism Party told Israel Radio.

Hashavua editor Asher Zuckerman said their article voiced the dissatisfaction of many haredim with how judges are appointed.

But others warned against an escalation of incitement that would spill over into violence, much like the climate that preceded the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin last November.

Rabin's widow, Leah, said Barak should "fear for his life."

But Barak believes "these attacks against himself and the court will recede, and the voices of reason in the state will overcome them," a court source told the daily Yediot Achronot.