Last Updated: Fri Dec 30, 2011 12:09 pm (KSA) 09:09 am (GMT)

Israel army rabbi blasts religious segregation

Israelis have been protesting against violence by religious zealots trying to impose their religious code on the town of Beit Shemesh. (Reuters)
Israelis have been protesting against violence by religious zealots trying to impose their religious code on the town of Beit Shemesh. (Reuters)

Israel’s chief military rabbi has condemned ultra-Orthodox Jews who discriminate against women and pledged such behavior will not be tolerated in the armed forces, media reported on Friday.

Radio stations and websites said Brigadier General Rafi Peretz had sent officers a memorandum denouncing as “immoral” a slew of acts such as the verbal abuse of a young female soldier for refusing to sit at the back of a public bus and attempts to segregate a town’s pavements.

“Of late there is a grave phenomenon of discrimination against women both outside the army and within it,” public radio quoted him as saying.

“I’m working to ensure that radical, wrong notions, such as those which inspired the events in Beit Shemesh, will not permeate the army,” he wrote according to news website Ynet.

Beit Shemesh, a town of 80,000 near Jerusalem, has been witnessing a wave of clashes between ultra-Orthodox activists and other residents.

On Thursday night, hundreds of activists there torched refuse bins, blocked streets and stoned police sent to disperse them, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

“There were several hundred who took part in the disturbances,” he said. “Three people were arrested.”

Rosenfeld said that there were no reports of any new trouble so far on Friday morning.

“It’s coming back to normal,” he said, there’s a strong police presence in the area.”

There have also been contentious incidents within the army, with religious male soldiers walking out of official events where female troops sing, and women at celebrations are asked to move to segregated enclosures.

An orthodox Jew was charged with on Thursday with sexual harassment after he allegedly verbally abused 19-year-old soldier Doron Matalon for refusing to comply with demands to sit with other women in the rear of a bus.

Shlomo Fuchs, a 44-year-old father, was charged with allegedly calling her a “whore”.

“The increasing phenomenon of discrimination against women endangers democratic society,” a court hearing at which the suspect was charged was told.

He was granted bail of 20,000 shekels ($5,260, 4,000 euros) until his case is heard, but he was unable to pay and was remanded in custody.

On Tuesday night, some 3,000 Israelis gathered at Beit Shemesh to protest against ultra-Orthodox extremists whose campaign for gender segregation has erupted into verbal and physical abuse against women.

The majority of the town’s residents are religious Jews, among them a large and growing ultra-Orthodox community.

Activists have posted signs in their neighborhood instructing women to dress “modestly” in long sleeves and calf-length skirts.

Israeli public radio reported that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein set up a team on Thursday whose remit is to report back to the government with recommendations on stamping out the phenomenon.

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