The fight against the exclusion of women has been blown out of proportion, officials in Shas party warned on Sunday, saying that politicians were trying to take advantage of the anti-haredi wave that was sweeping through Israel.
"That whole procession with the torches – if it had taken place in Europe, they would of called it anti-Semitism," said MK Nissim Zeev, referring to a protest against the exclusion of women that was organized by Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni last week.
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"This is a pointless discussion," Zeev claimed, saying that extremist elements also interrupt haredi citizens, and they do not represent the haredi society as a whole.
"Although 99% of all criminal acts take place in the secular sector, I will not sully the name of an entire sector," he said, adding that there was "unnecessary chatter surrounding the topic."
'In Europe, it would have be called anti-Semitism' (Photo: Itzik Adari)
Interior Minister and Shas Chairman Eli Yishai expressed his objection to extremist acts of hostility against women, but claimed that the issue has been exaggerated.
'Acts contradict halachic law'
In a conversation with Ynet, Yishai compared the segregation between men and women on public transportation to separate soccer leagues. "Why aren't women and men playing together in Beitar Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv (football clubs)? You can claim that they are also excluding women," the minister said.
"No one has the right to force their lifestyle on the public sphere," Yishai noted, adding that he was "shocked from cases in which women and children were humiliated, which is in contradiction with halachic law and Jewish morals.
Soccer also excludes women? (Photo: Reuven Schwartz)
"Most of the haredi public is opposed to these grave acts, and I will continue to encourage mayors to act firmly against this phenomenon," Yishai maintained.
On Sunday, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat approached Yishai, asking him to appoint a committee to deal with women degradation in the city of Beit Shemesh, where most recent incidents have taken place.
Following the request, Yishai told Ynet he had no intention to appointed a committee and dismiss the mayor of Beit Shemesh, as requested by Livnat.
"I spoke with him, and he will act firmly against the phenomenon," Yishai said, adding: "Jerusalem also has a problem, so what? We'll fire (the mayor) as well?"
Responding to Livnat's comments, by which she has nothing against segregation in haredi towns, the Interior Minister said: "You can’t tell someone where to swim in the sea, or force them to swim in a public pool. You can't force people to pray together.
"Incitement against haredim is an awful thing – we are all being generalized and the media is mixing things around. Women who want to do things separately cannot be told what to do," he said.
At the heart of the recent controversy is the city of Beit Shemesh, where members of an extremist haredi sect have been verbally and physically assaulting other city residents – especially women and national-religious girls.
On Sunday morning a Channel 2 TV crew was attacked by a few dozen haredim who hurled rocks at the broadcasting van. The vehicle sustained damage and one crew member was lightly injured in his arm. Police forces were called to the scene and tried to track down the assailants, as well as equipment that was reportedly stolen from the van.
Moran Azulay contributed to this report
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