An ultra-Orthodox man suspected of a cursing and spitting at a religious woman in the central Israeli town of Beit Shemesh last week, was arrested Saturday night.
According to the indictment, a number of men assaulted Alisa Coleman, who was helping girls onto a school bus to the religious-Zionist "Orot Banot" elementary school for girls.
According to her attackers she was immodestly dressed.
Coleman, a British immigrant and mother of four whose children are not enrolled at Orot, was so outraged by the protests that she arrived at the school to help escort the children safely onto their buses. The fitness instructor-turned human buffer was spat at and cursed by the protesters. "We cannot allow this to continue," she said, adamantly.
The issue of exclusion of women and more specifically the treatment of women in Beit Shemesh has become drawn fire from the Israeli political establishment. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz called for the arrest of religious extremists who assault women and girls.
“They are mean psychopaths and belong behind bars,” he said.
Steinitz called on Interior Minister Eli Yishai to demand the immediate removal of signs excluding women from Beit Shemesh’s streets. Steinitz threatened that if the signs were not removed the town’s mayor would be replaced by one appointed by the government.
Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat also discussed the exclusion of women in Beit Shemesh. In an interview to Army Radio, Livnat said that “cities completely ultra-orthodox should be allowed to live according to their beliefs. But in cases that not everyone is interested, it should be resisted.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to meet on Sunday with ultra-Orthodox politicians to ask them to speak out against the segregation of women in public places by extremists in the Haredi community.
Netanyahu will be meeting with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and representatives of United Torah Judaism including MK Moshe Gafni.
Sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau said Netanyahu will be speaking over the next two weeks to ministers from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, the chief rabbis and other prominent rabbis. "We will not allow extremist groups to hurt women's rights in the public space, which must remain open to everyone," Netanyahu said on Saturday.
He asked Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch to order the police to take firm action against the exclusion of women from the public space.
Netanyahu also asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to determine whether the laws against segregation of women were being enforced by municipalities. He asked Weinstein to examine whether signs in streets instructing women to use the other side of the street were legal. Sources close to Netanyahu said if such signs proved to be illegal they would be taken down.
Sources in Netanyahu's office said the prime minister was "furious" over the recent cases of segregation against women and that he planned to speak out on the matter whenever possible. At the Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Prime Minister's Office last week, he made a point of being photographed with the woman singer who performed there.
The ministerial committee on the status of women last week appointed an interministerial team to examine the recent incidents and submit recommendations within 60 days, including sanctions on municipalities where such segregation occurs.
In the third demonstration in recent weeks in Jerusalem, some 300 people marched on Friday against the segregation of women. The protesters marched from Paris Square near the Prime Minister's Residence to Hamashbir Square in the center of the city.
The march was initiated on Facebook by Liron Shish, a 23-year-old student at Ben-Gurion University in Be'er Sheva. Protesters also called for equal pay for women and against the exploitation of women by employment contractors.
Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv on Friday, hundreds of people, including public figures from across the political spectrum, held a rally at the Cinemateque, initiated by WePower, a women's empowerment group.
"When God said 'it is not good for man to be alone' and made him a helpmeet, this is not what He intended," said Adina Bar-Shalom, daughter of Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Mordechai I. Twersky contributed to this report.
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