Israel: Beit Shemesh rally called against Jewish extremism


Israelis policemen disperse ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters in the central town of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, on Dec. 26, 2011. Extra Israeli police patrolled the streets of Beit Shemesh after a campaign by ultra-Orthodox Jews to segregate men and women erupted into violence.


Menahem Kahana

President Shimon Peres has called on Israelis to take a stand against religious extremism, following violence by ultra-Orthodox Jews.

A protest focused on the persecution of women at the hands of ultra-Orthodox believers is due to take place in the city of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, on Tuesday night. It is expected to draw more than 10,000 supporters, according to Haaretz.

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The city has seen two days of disturbances as ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews threw stones and shouted at police and television crews, the paper reported. Their anger was reportedly provoked by a recent TV news report about an 8-year-old American girl, Na'ama Margolese, who said she was too afraid to walk to school because Haredi men shout abuse at her.

Margolese is expected to attend Tuesday's rally, Haaretz said, where she will be joined by activists campaigning against some conservative Jews' efforts to segregate women in public. Some of the Haredim who disagree with extreme members of their community are also expected to take part, according to the BBC.

Hours ahead of the rally, President Peres told Israelis that everyone had a responsibility to join the campaign. Ynet News has this translation:

"Today is a test for our nation to save the majority from the claws of a small minority who gnaws at the foundations of democracy.

"The religious, the secular, the traditionalists – we all must defend the nature of the state of Israel in the face of a small group that harms national solidarity."

No one has the right to attack or threaten women, Peres said. On Tuesday, a bill was submitted to the Israeli parliament to make encouraging gender segregation a criminal act punishable by a jail term, the Jerusalem Post reported.

In recent weeks, Haredi activists have demanded separate sidewalks for men and women, separate seating on buses, and that Haredi members of the armed forces be excused from events at which female singers perform.

Some Haredim say the incidents have been unfairly blown out proportion by the media. Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim, who lives in Beit Shemesh, told the Jerusalem Post that Orthodox Jews were the victims of persecution:

"Because of the incitement against us, the Haredi community now sees the public as waging war against and alienating the majority of us who want to have good relations with the other sectors of the population.

“No one in our community supports this violent minority, and our rabbis warn about them and speak out against them."

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