Gender Segregation Campaign in Israel Turns Violent

AFP reports that clashes erupted in Beit Shemesh, just outside of Jerusalem, between police and hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews who are campaigning for segregation of men and women.

Israeli police had increased their presence following rising tensions in the area sparked by discriminatory actions against women imposed by a radical fringe of the town’s religious Jews.

Police took several demonstrators in for questioning , and journalists were roughed up and insulted by the ultra-Orthodox men. There was also shouting matches between religious and secular Jews.

Residents of Beit Shemesh, which has a population of 80,000 people and is located roughly 18 miles west of Jerusalem, showered police and TV crews with eggs and set fire to garbage bins. A majority of the town’s residents are religious Jews, among them a large and growing ultra-Orthodox community.

The protestors held placards urging segregation between men and women and instructing women to dress “modestly” in long sleeves and calf-length skirts.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to crack down on acts of gender separation and ultra-orthodox violence towards women, and keep the public “open and safe to everyone.”

The violence has come after a series of recent incidents across the country in which women have been forced to sit at the back of segregated buses or get off entirely, despite court rulings that women may sit anywhere they please.

Women’s rights activists say the ultra-Orthodox, which account for approximately 10% of Israel’s population, have become increasingly radical over gender segregation and are winning concessions that harm women.

Meanwhile, secular activists are organizing demonstrations against the ultra-Orthodox coercion and violence, and are being joined by religious and some ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are making efforts to differentiate between the mainstream orthodoxy and ideological and violent extremists.

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