In an effort to curb an escalating cycle of violence between secular and Orthodox Jews, the Israeli government today 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, and an illuminated road sign displaying the Ten Commandments near the Israel Museum was smashed, apparently by militant secular Jews.
In the city of Peta Tikva, scene of some of the most violent clashes between Orthodox and secular Jews, police said a synagogue was vandalized overnight 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 today 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 the tensions could be eased.
The emergency meeting was called by Peres after secular Jews set fire to a Tel Aviv synagogue early yesterday in retaliation for the burning of the bus shelters by ultra-Orthodox Jews who have complained about offensive and sexually provocative advertising posters.
Rabbi Haim Druckman, a Knesset (parliament) member of the Orthodox Morasha Party, said, "I believe that such a committee can help improve the situation. But it must be understood that we are talking about a national consensus, and I believe in such a consensus. . . We didn't set up the commission of inquiry not to accept its recommendations."
Following the emergency meeting, 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.
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, a participant in today's meeting, said, "There is, here and there, an erosion of the status quo. . . There are drastic decisions by mayors. In this committee, we will be able to look into all these things. . . "
Dan Tavori, mayor of Peta Tikva, where fights have been waged over the screening of films in public theaters on the Sabbath, said he was optimistic about the forum but had no intention of closing down theaters on Friday nights.