Israeli ultra-Orthodox Jewish gender segregation campaign turns violent

The ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Israel has been calling for gender segregation and is turning violent in its quest to achieve its goals. (File photo)

Clashes erupted on Monday between police and several hundred ultra-Orthodox Jews from a town near Jerusalem who are campaigning for men and women to be segregated, an AFP journalist said.

Israeli police had stepped up their patrols in Beit Shemesh following unrest sparked by discrimination against women imposed by a radical fringe of the town’s religious Jews.

Several demonstrators were taken in for questioning after police and journalists were roughed up and insulted by ultra-Orthodox men telling them to “clear off,” the journalist said.

There were also shouting matches between ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews.

Beit Shemesh residents showered police and television crews with eggs and also set fire to the contents of refuse bins.

Several placards urging segregation between men and women that had been removed by police were later put back by protesters.

The ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Israel has been calling for gender segregation and is turning violent in its quest to achieve its goals. (File photo)

Earlier, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a man from Beit Shemesh had been arrested over an assault on Sunday on a TV crew filming a sign instructing women to cross the street to avoid walking past a synagogue.

Other signs posted in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood instructed women to dress “modestly” in long sleeves and calf-length skirts.

The Haaretz newspaper said that the cameraman from commercial station Channel Two was thrown to the ground and his sound recordist grabbed by the throat in the attack by ultra-Orthodox men.

Other journalists were also attacked and a police car stoned.

"A male was arrested and is being questioned in connection with the incident which took place on the Channel Two team," Rosenfeld told AFP.

“Municipal inspectors have been working in the street taking down posters ... Police have stepped up patrols in Beit Shemesh.”

Israeli media said images broadcast on Channel Two last week of an ultra-Orthodox man in Beit Shemesh spitting at a woman led to his arrest on Saturday night.

The Jerusalem Post said he was freed by magistrates on Sunday after being fined and ordered to stay out of Beit Shemesh for a week.

The violence in the town west of Jerusalem came after a wave of incidents elsewhere in Israel in which women have been compelled to sit at the back of segregated buses serving ultra-Orthodox areas or get off, despite court rulings that women may sit where they please.

Women’s rights activists say that the ultra-Orthodox ─ around 10 percent of the population ─ have become increasingly radical over gender segregation and are winning concessions that harm women.

“Discrimination and violence against women, purportedly motivated by religious sensibilities, have spiralled out of control,” the liberal Haaretz said in an editorial on Monday.

“In recent weeks, we have been witness to women attacked for refusing to move to the back of the bus to uphold a policy of gender segregation; women forced out of a venue where elections in a Jerusalem neighborhood were being held,” it said.

It said women had been barred from a health ministry prize-giving ceremony and prevented from serving in key military posts “due to the opposition of a growing, increasingly vocal group of religious male soldiers and officers.”

Maariv newspaper compared the Beit Shemesh violence to attacks by extremist Jewish settlers on Palestinian property, homes and offices of Israeli peace activists and army bases, in protest against demolitions of wildcat settlements.

“It is the exact same story,” it wrote. “Organized gangs, increasing in strength and audacity, of people who do not regard the state laws as the source of authority but rather rely on their various rabbis and peculiar divine voices in their heads.

“This is a culture war, no less.”

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