Yes, there were negative elements to the protest in Beit Shemesh on Tuesday evening, and yes, it smacked of small-mindedness when disturbances erupted during the speech by Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat and when MKs Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) and Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) were not invited to address the crowd. But with all the reservations and suspicions, the protest was a united expression of the better part of Israeli society. Almost an expression of consensus.
In addressing a controversial issue of his time, Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky wrote an article titled, "Yes, Break It!," coining a catchphrase that is also relevant to the current controversy – the exclusion of women. Yes, break it, in order to allow multiculturalism to exist. And to allow upright ultra-Orthodox individuals to live as they see fit without interference. And to encourage understanding and reconciliation rather than deepening the rift. But that is where we draw the line.
If Rabbi Ehrlich and the extremists from Mea Shearim take over Beit Shemesh, the police must take action using full force. If Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul does not know how to prevent apartheid on his city's sidewalks, a committee should be appointed to protect the basic fundamental rights of every female citizen.
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Extremists must not be allowed to harass even one woman, let alone one frightened school-girl. It is as though they never learned the lesson from Psalms: "Do not touch my anointed ones." After all, they are the schoolchildren.
No one is under the illusion that this all started with the Sikrikim [ultra-religious zealots] in Beit Shemesh. This ugly and brazen phenomenon began elsewhere and spread like cancer that has metastasized over the last 63 years. The beginning can be traced back to other issues: to exemptions from service in the IDF, to ignoring the operation of "Mehadrin" [gender-segregated "kosher"] bus lines at the public's expense, to the powerlessness of previous governments to impose a core curriculum on the entire education system.
It appears that ultra-Orthodox extremists overdid it this time. Now they are facing members of their own community and the nation at large. They are up against not just a handful of wheeler-dealers seeking to strengthen their political party while hindering their opponents, but an overwhelming majority of women in Israel. They would be wise not to wake a sleeping giant.
The enemy is still relatively passive. Thousands came to Beit Shemesh on Tuesday, but many more did not. The protest is still far from its peak. The anger lacks intensity. Rabbi Tuvia Weiss of the ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit allows himself to refuse to greet Jerusalem Police chief Nisso Shaham. He and his followers do not understand how forceful the clash will be at its peak. It would be better not to have to experience that. But if, heaven forbid, there is no other choice, then yes, break it!
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