Benjamin Netanyahu - Olivier Fitoussi - 28.12.2011
Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Knesset. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Israel will act against anyone who harasses women in the public sphere, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, one day after a massive protest against gender segregation took place in the central Israel town of Beit Shemesh.

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On Tuesday, thousands of Israelis amassed near the Orot girl's school in Beit Shemesh on to protest gender segregation in a city that has become a symbol for the struggle against religious extremism.

Referring to rising tensions over gender segregation in Israel's ultra-Orthodox community, Netanyahu said at the Knesset on Wednesday that Israel will act against "anyone who harasses women, anyone who harasses people in the public sphere."

"We won't accept spitting on people in the street just because someone doesn't approve of their apparel," the PM said, adding that the "public sphere is open and safe and will remain so."

"This is part of what makes Israel a liberal western democracy, that the public sphere is open and free to everyone," the premier said, warning, however, against an attack on the entire ultra-Orthodox community.

"We must beware of generalizing an entire population, because the vast majority of the Haredi public combines an adherence to Jewish tradition and a complete respect of the law," Netanyahu said, commending top rabbis who criticized the actions of extremists.

The Premier reiterated that recent clashes were instigated by "violent, lawless, fringe groups," adding that those criticizing the entire ultra-Orthodox community were better off "uniting to eradicate these incidents."

"We'll stop the extremists, and won't let anyone harm Jews, Arabs, or [vandalize] mosques," Netanyahu added.

Netanyahu's comments came after, earlier Wednesday, a female Israel Defense Forces soldier reported being accosted by a Haredi man over her refusal to move to the back of a segregated bus in Jerusalem.

 

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