A Jerusalem District Court decided Wednesday to hold the Beit Shemesh municipality in contempt after it took no action to remove signs to exclude women from the public sphere. According to the ruling, the municipality will be forced to pay 5,000 shekels (about $1,400) per sign for every day it remains on display starting next month.
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The original lawsuit was filed by five women, all Orthodox religious residents of the city, through attorney Orly Erez-Likhovski from the Israel Relgious Action Center. The women sought to have the municipality remove the signs placed at the entrance to Haredi neighborhoods in the city that included demands to dress modestly according to specific details of what constitutes acceptable attire, and signs that warned women not to use streets where synagogues and yeshivas are present. The women described harassment and violence directed at them from Haredi extremists that were connected to the messages on the signs on several occasions.
Two years ago, Jerusalem District Court Judge Yigal Marzel ruled in favor of the women. He ordered they be given 15,000 shekels in compensation and that the municipality must remove the signs. The municipality removed some of the signs but others remained, including those on the city’s main street, while others that were removed eventually appeared again. Four months ago, Erez-Likhovski filed a request to hold the city in contempt and order it once again to remove the signs and compensate the women. The Beit Shemesh municipality claims it took action against the signs and issued over 300 fines for them. The fines were never paid. The municipality also claimed that its employees and supervisors are often on the receiving end of threats and violence and that the municipality isn’t able to deal with the problem.
The judge rejected the municipality’s claims and said the situation in Beit Shemesh “should cause real worry among those involved and those charged with enforcing the law. Such a situation is unacceptable and all the appropriate authorities must take the necessary steps to restore order and uphold the law.”
In reponse to the ruling, the municipality said it was “surprised” and “disappointed,” stating that the city “has done everything it can and has removed the offensive signs many times, but doesn’t have the tools that are intended for it, which are in the hands of the Israel Police.”
The city also noted that similar signs are on display in other cities, including Jerusalem, but no other municipality has been fined for them.