Ultra-Orthodox Beit Shemesh segregation
Ultra-Orthodox Beit Shemesh residents underneath a sign instructing women to use the other sidewalk. Photo by Shiran Granot
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Violent clashes between Israel Police forces and ultra-Orthodox activists amid a public outcry over the exclusion of women from the public sphere is damaging the image of the Haredi community in the United States, Brooklyn community leaders told Haaretz on Tuesday.

"The violent clashes show Israel in a horrible light and cause a great deal of damage to its image in America," one Hasidic rabbi, a resident of the Borough Park neighborhood told Haaretz.

"If Jews strike Jews, what will the gentiles say?" asked one rabbi.

Reports of violent clashes between radical Haredi activists and security forces in the central Israel town of Beit Shemesh have been slowly spreading through Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox communities.

But when community leaders are asked on their take on recent unrest in Israel, their response is as unified as it is harsh – an unequivocal denouncement of extremism and violence.

"The extremists in Israel's Haredi camp are giving a bad name to the virtue of modesty," the leading rabbi told Haaretz, with other leaders expressing dismay at what they called the "moderate" response of Israeli authorities.

New York Democratic New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind added that "if a young Hasidic man would have spat on or hurt a girl in Borough Park he would have been immediately arrested and handled in the most stern of way."

"Incidents of harassment and injury against people of all race and creed are unacceptable and unforgivable where we are," Hikind added.

When it was recently discovered that a local Brooklyn bus line was enacting gender segregation, the city put an immediate stop to the custom and the line was cancelled. Segregation is only tolerated in private bus lines which service religious neighborhoods.

Speaking with Haaretz, some rabbis explained that cases of religious extremism were rare in Brooklyn, since the religious population of those areas was mostly homogenous. "95 percent of Borough Park residents are Hasidic Jews," Hikind said, "which is also the case in Williamsburg and Flatbush."

Even outbursts within those communities rarely reach the public eye, community leaders added, with Hikind saying that "a factor which prevents ugly riots of the kind we're seeing in Beit Shemesh is the general feel of 'what would those among whom we live would say?'"

Jewish leaders have also said that Hasidic communities have also been maintaining an exemplary coexistence with the many Arab and Muslim immigrants who have settled into the area in recent years.

Read this article in Hebrew