A crowd estimated at more than 1,000 and consisting of men and boys from the ultra-Orthodox community demonstrated last night in Jerusalem's Shabbat Square against what they termed the exclusion of Haredim from Israeli society.
The claim is a response to recent protests against the exclusion and separation of women in the mixed city of Beit Shemesh and other incidents involving a clash of values between Haredim and non-Haredim in Israel.
Some of last night's demonstrators expressed solidarity with Shmuel Weissfisch, a leading member of a group of Jewish religious extremists calling themselves the Sicarii. Weissfisch will enter prison today to begin serving a two-year sentence for vandalizing a computer store in the square.
Some of the protesters wore yellow stars or garb representing the clothing worn by Jews in concentration camps during World War II, to express their feelings of being persecuted for their Jewishness.
A fight broke out in the crowd at one point when some of the demonstrators suspected one of their number of being a undercover police officer.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, meanwhile, was forced to address the subject of exclusion on Friday while speaking at a high school in Be'er Tuvia, near Ashkelon. "The exclusion of women has no place in the Israel Defense Forces, and I will go even further: there is no exclusion of women in the IDF," he said, responding to a student's question.
Gantz went on to say that "the IDF is not an organization that promotes gender issues, it is a member of the executive branch." He added, however, "Women can be proud of their service and they can be proud of their singing," a reference to the controversy that has arisen in recent months over women singing at IDF ceremonies.
An emergency convention of rabbis assigned to IDF units has been called for today, with the aim of forging a unified stance on issues related to the singing of women in the army. At the meeting, IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz is expected to reiterate the directives regarding the coexistence of men and women in the IDF. The stated purpose of the convention is to ensure that the chief of staff's directives are being followed and that servicewomen are not subject to discrimination.
On Thursday night Peretz issued a special memorandum to commanders, in which he clarified that discrimination against women contravenes the principles of Judaism, He emphasized that the "extremist and misguided ideas that form the backdrop for incidents of discrimination against women in Israeli society," such as those occurring in Beit Shemesh, "will not happen in the IDF."
In related news, on Friday the Jerusalem District Court eased the conditions placed on the release of an ultra-Orthodox resident of the city who was charged with sexual harassment after he called a female soldier who boarded a bus he was riding a "prostitute" and demanded that she sit in the back of the vehicle.
Shlomo Fuchs, 45, a married yeshiva student with 12 children, was taken in by police for questioning after the incident on Wednesday morning. He was arraigned in the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Thursday. His bail was set at NIS 20,000 and restrictive conditions were imposed on his release, to remain in effect until January 10.
Fuchs' attorney appealed against the restrictions, and on Friday the district court reduced his bail to NIS 5,000 and released Fuchs to his home. He will be permitted to spend the days at his yeshiva, as usual.
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