Following the public uproar over discrimination against women in Beit Shemesh over the past week, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said he would gather top brass in the State Prosecutor's Office on Thursday to explore legal recourse for combating the phenomenon.
State Prosecutor Moshe Lador said on Wednesday that his office would "mobilize and work alongside the police to eradicate the phenomenon of growing radicalization of Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] extremists. We are realizing that there is a strong need to work against the exclusion of women."
Among the issues to be discussed will be the legality of closing streets to traffic on Shabbat, and whether local municipalities can be required to remove signs that violate women's rights. The judicial officials also intend to examine ways to improve criminal law enforcement against ultra-Orthodox extremists who are physically and verbally abusive toward women.
Get the Israel Hayom newsletter sent to your mailbox!
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with the attorney-general on Saturday night and asked him to identify legal means to uproot the spreading phenomenon.
"We will stop the extremists, we will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law and we will not accept the fact that they hurt Jews or Arabs," Netanyahu said Wednesday in a speech at the Knesset. "We will not allow them to spit on women or people on the street just because they don't like the way they're dressed."
Netanyahu was speaking at the end of a Knesset plenum session initiated by Kadima concerning recent events in Beit Shemesh. "The public realm is open and secure for all, and that's how it will stay," the premier said.
However, he warned against making sweeping generalizations about an entire population, saying the overwhelming majority of the Haredi public abides by both Halachah (Jewish law) and civil law. "I welcome the fact that important rabbis and prominent Haredi leaders, even within the Knesset, aggressively condemned these unacceptable phenomena."
The public uproar surrounding the issue of women's exclusion, which has manifested itself in abusive behavior toward school-girls in Beit Shemesh, as well as the degrading treatment of women on public buses has lead more and more women to speak out.
On Wednesday, a confrontation between an ultra-Orthodox man and a female soldier whom he asked to move to the back of the bus and then cursed when she refused culminated with his arrest. The soldier, who says she has endured curses and threats on buses in the past, refused to remain silent this time and filed a complaint against the man with police.
Pvt. Doron Matalon, a resident of Beit Aryeh in Samaria, took the 49a bus on her way to the Central Command base in Jerusalem where she serves as a secretary for Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi. The line travels from the Central Bus Station through the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood to Neve Yakov in northern Jerusalem. Wearing her IDF uniform, Matalon stood at the front of the bus. At a certain point a Haredi man in his 40s stood next to her.
In an interview with Israel Hayom, Matalon described what happened next: "A secular woman who was standing at the back of the bus walked up front to show her ticket to the ticket inspectors. I moved aside to make room but the Haredi man standing next to me told her, 'Go to the back of the bus. You are a woman, you don't need to come forward, just give other people your ticket and let them pass it to the inspectors.'
I looked at him and he addressed me as well, 'You too, soldier, go to the back of the bus. This is a Mehadrin [gender-segregated "kosher"] bus. We have our bus lines and you have yours.' I refused and told him that he is welcome to go to the back himself. I decided not to keep quiet."
According to Matalon, the man immediately began cursing her, calling her "shikse" (a derogatory term for a non-Jewish woman) and "prutze" (prostitute). Within seconds, a war of words had broken out on the bus, as additional Haredi men joined the fray. "I told them that I am just as Jewish as they are and that they should stop speaking to me that way and that I am a soldier serving my country and that I also protect them. The other woman also told them not to speak that way to a soldier, and that women have rights. When I started to feel like I was in danger, I called the ticket inspectors to help me."
Two Egged ticket inspectors separated her from the group of men. When she said she wanted to file a complaint with police, they stopped the bus, prevented the man from getting off and called the police, who showed up within a few minutes and arrested him. Under questioning, the man admitted to his actions and his remand is expected to be extended on Thursday.
Matalon says this is not the first time she has been cursed at on this bus. Once, as she was getting off at her stop she was forcibly pushed off the bus from behind. "Until now the only people I told were my parents, but I decided not to keep quiet this time," she said. The incident, she said, will not prevent her from taking the same bus line in the future.
Protests to continue
A large protest event is scheduled to take place Sunday against gender-segregated bus lines. The Facebook-organized demonstration, initiated by a young man named Alon Visser, will consist of men and women getting on segregated buses in Jerusalem and throughout the country and sitting together.
With the end of the Hanukkah vacation Thursday morning, tensions in Beit Shemesh reached a peak. Police plan to beef up security around Orot Banot, the school at the center of the conflict, to prevent harassment by extremist Haredim.
On Wednesday, Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul met with Shas party spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. At the end of the meeting, Abutbul said, "The rabbi is pained over the battles in the city and he told me not to lose courage in my struggle to strengthen the Haredi population and denounce violence."
Abutbul attacked secular movements, which he said are fanning the flames of violence. "I wanted to meet the little girl Naama," he said, referring to the 8-year-old harassed en route to school, "and they told me I have to go through a PR agency. To meet a little girl I need to go through a company? There are self-interested elements that are inflaming hatred in the city."
In Tel Aviv, meanwhile, 300 WIZO activists marched down Rothschild Boulevard on Wednesday protesting the exclusion of women under the slogan, "From exclusion to promotion." At the end of the march, a rally was held opposite the old Tel Aviv Museum building.
The Haredi response: a demonstration in Beit Shemesh
Following the demonstration against religious coercion in Beit Shemesh Tuesday night, the city's ultra-Orthodox residents said they would plan a demonstration of their own this Thursday night in Jerusalem. One of the central slogans of the planned demonstration is "The Torah is one and will not be replaced." The peak of the demonstration will be a show of solidarity with Sikrik [extremist ultra-Orthodox] member, Shmuel Weisfish, 23, an activist in the "modesty patrol" who was sentenced to two years in prison for assault and threats and is scheduled to enter Maasiyahu Prison on Sunday.
The Shas mouthpiece "Yom Leyom" ["Day to Day"] on Wednesday attacked the "incitement campaign" against Haredim. The lead editorial opined that "Exclusion of women has transformed into the inflammation of hatred in Israel. And there are good people on both sides who unfortunately are taking steps to spread and exacerbate the hatred. What will we do if, heaven forbid, something worse happens here, a catastrophe, let's say, on the order of Rabin's murder?" The newspaper pleaded not to stereotype and blame the entire ultra-Orthodox public for the actions of the extremists.
Like our newsletter? 'Like' our Facebook page!