Man beaten as religious tension in B. Shemesh escalates
An American immigrant was attacked and beaten in Beit Shemesh by a gang of ultra-Orthodox zealots, in what appears to be an escalation of tension between religious groups in the city. T., who is himself ultra-Orthodox, was kicked, beaten and threatened with further violence in a Sunday night attack that landed him in the hospital. T.'s car windows were also smashed. T., who asked to go unnamed, has been active in trying to stem the recent tide of Haredi violence in the city.
"A bunch of goons, maybe 20 or 30 guys, attacked me - it was like a pogrom," he told Haaretz. "They kicked me, beat me, and then just left me there. Luckily, I am a strong guy and was able to get up and go to the hospital."
In response, residents of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, a Haredi stronghold in the city, held a protest last night. This was the first time ultra-Orthodox residents came out strongly against fringe elements from within their own community.
"My attackers thought they won, but there is a procession in my support," said T., who was born in New York. In recent months, Beit Shemesh residents have banded against what they call growing religious intimidation and coercion by some Haredi residents of the city.
This week, a family in one of the city's modern Orthodox neighborhoods received warnings and threats because a television in their living room faced a main thoroughfare that borders an ultra-Orthodox housing project. In October, five ultra-Orthodox men assaulted a woman and an Israel Defense Forces soldier for sitting next to each other on a bus bound for Beit Shemesh.
Signs along main streets call on people to dress modestly, meanwhile, and women say they no longer feel comfortable jogging along some roads.
T., who has since been released from the hospital, helped organize a recent protest against the violence. Sources say the attack on Sunday was a culmination of ongoing harassment.
Shalom Lerner, deputy mayor of Beit Shemesh, told Haaretz that the incident marks new heights for Haredi violence in the city.
"It's sad that they are trying to terrorize the city," Lerner said. "Unfortunately, though, the Haredi violence isn't news anymore. The fact that there is a demonstration, however, that the silent majority is standing up and fighting back, is a major achievement. People are realizing that the time for action is now."
A spokesman for the Beit Shemesh police said they have leads in the case.