In recent weeks, the central Israel town of Beit Shemesh has seen increased violence by ultra-religious men, attacking women and girls, who they feel have been dressed in an immodest manner.
These men have resorted to cursing, spitting, and even rock-throwing. Signs have been hung in the town center instructing women not to “dally in the street.”
The situation in the town was brought to the forefront of Israeli public discourse, this weekend in a Channel 2 exposé, aired this Friday, about a 8-year-old girl who is afraid to go to her school – located a mere 300 meters from her house – because of the violence she had experienced by men, who felt the religious girl’s attire was not modest enough.
The exposé led Tsviki Levin, an actor with the Beit Lessin theater group, to start a Facebook group titled “A thousand Israelis going to Beit Shemesh to protect little Naama,” which already has more than 5,500 members.
“I opened the Facebook group to help Naama but she is just a symbol for something bigger and more acute and dangerous for all of Israeli society.” Levin said on Friday.
“There are hundreds of women and girls like her, paying the price of exclusion, intimidation, and humiliation, from extremist religious groups.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, on Saturday, and asked him to instruct the police to take decisive action against the exclusion of women from Israel’s public sphere.
Later on Saturday, Netanyahu spoke with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, and inquired whether the laws regarding the exclusion of women in Israel’s local municipalities were being enforced.
In recent weeks, a number of controversial incidents have spurred the discussion over women’s equality in the public arena. The debate started following the refusal of a number of IDF soldiers to listen to a female soldier singing.
The debate continued with protests over the removal of images of women from advertisements and on buses in Jerusalem, disagreement on a public bus where women are forced to sit separately from men at the back of the vehicle, and a number of cases of segregation between the sexes in public places, such as at medical centers.
Following the forced removal of a female passenger from her bus seat by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man on a public bus last week, Netanyahu condemned that incident too, saying that Israel “must protect its public space, and maintain its openness and safety for all citizens.”
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