Ultra-Orthodox Israeli Lawmaker Compares Women's Rights Panel to Kahane Supporters

Ahead of upcoming visit to Israeli town ordered to remove signs urging women to dress modestly, MK Israel Eichler says lawmakers' tour is akin to a visit by extremist rabbi's followers to Israeli-Arab town of Umm al-Fahm

Signs on a stairwell in Beit Shemesh urging the separation of men and women, December 2017.
Gil Cohen-Magen

An ultra-Orthodox lawmakers com sharply criticized a planned Knesset committee visit to the central Israeli town of Beit Shemesh, which was recently ordered to remove signs in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods urging women to dress modestly and keep off of sidewalks where men congregate.

MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism), the deputy speaker of the Knesset and a member of the Committee on the Status of Women, said making him visit the flashpoint town is akin to making followers of the late far-right extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane visit the Israeli-Arab town of Umm al-Fahm.

Eichler has been working to thwart the committee's planned visit over the past several days, aimed at showcasing how Beit Shemesh is implementing the High Court order to remove the signs. "I wonder how [Joint List] MK Aida Touma-Suleiman if the Knesset committee had invited Rav Kahane's followers to Umm al-Fahm to inspect the noise decibel level from the city's muezzins," Eichler said.

United Torah Judaism MK Israel Eichler, 2017.
Ilan Assayag

Eichler was referencing the Knesset bill that would limit public calls to prayers from mosques. The measure imposes a 5,000 (about $1,434) to 10,000 shekel fine for houses of worship, mainly mosques that issue public address announcements during hours banned under the law.

Touma-Suleiman called Eichler's comparison "nothing less than delusional and frightening."

"The attempt to compare an outlawed violent and racist group with incumbent Knesset members is an attempt to delegitimize all those who fight for women's rights," Touma-Suleiman said, adding that if Eichler cared about those living in Beit Shemesh, he would welcome the tour and not use it encourage violence against committee members. She noted that "those instigating would be held responsible for any harm caused to participants."

Joint List MK Aida Touma-Suleiman, 2016.
Emil Salman

Eichler urged Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein to scrap the visit. Calling it nothing more than a "media provocation," Eichler said that the visit will "only promote the status of Reform women's organizations under the auspices of the Knesset." Eichler added that "members of the Knesset were elected to serve the public, not as PR for Reform organizations" and left-wing organizations.

Touma-Suleiman told committee members over the weekend that the visit would take place despite Eichler's letter. In addition to visiting the sites where the signs were displayed, committee members will meet with the women who petitioned the court for their removal.

Some of the controversial signs instruct women how to dress, requiring them to wear long sleeves and long skirts and no tight-fitting clothing. Others admonish women to keep off the sidewalks near synagogues and yeshivas, where men tend to congregate.

In 2013, the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Israel, filed a suit against the municipality and the mayor on behalf of four Modern Orthodox women, all residents of Beit Shemesh, for refusing to remove the signs, as required by a government report published that year