Thousands gathered in Beit Shemesh Tuesday for a demonstration protesting the growing demand by radical religious elements to exclude women from public life in Israel.
The rally will feature several female speakers who were victims of haredi violence. Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat and Rabbi Haim Amsalem also addressed the crowd.
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Protesters were hoisting banners reading "Free Israel from religious coercion," "Stop Israel from becoming Iran," Segregation is a red line," and "The majority is silent no more."
(Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Public outcry against the radical demand to shun women from public events and for segregation between the sexes on busses, sidewalks and even in lines in the supermarket, became especially strident over the weakened when seven-year-old Na'ama Margolis was spat on in a Beit Shemesh street by haredi man who claimed she was not dressed "modestly enough."
"There are amazing people that want to live here. Some are religious and some aren’t. They asked me – 'Don't give up on us.' We have no intention of giving up on you or on the State of Israel," Livni said.
She further warned against "an underline change that's brewing here, by some who don’t think women are their equals."
Minister Livnat added that "the atrocity of women's exclusion is a heinous crime. We will fight against it with everything we have."
"Beit Shemes has become a symbol for a secular city that has become haredi. Seculars must be allowed to live here… the current situation is intolerable ," MK Miri Regev (Likud) said.
"This is a Jewish country but there is no room for imposing (religious edicts). We cannot allow religious coercion or segregation in mixed cities. Everyone should be allowed to make their own choice," she said.
No room for coercion (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
MK Amir Peretz (Labor), who also attended the rally added: "Enough is enough. We have to stop this situation… It's okay for the haredim to have their own neighborhoods but they can't be allowed to take over entire cities – it will cause unrest and possibly a war between brothers."
Peretz expressed his hope that the political parties will unite over the fight against segregation: "It's inconceivable that a little girl in Israel will say that she's afraid to go out," he added.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his aversion of the phenomenon on Tuesday, saying that the demand to exclude women went against the core principles of Judaism.
"The bible speaks of the fair way in which every person, and particularly women, must be treated. The exclusion of women goes against the tradition of the bible and the principles of Judaism."
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar echoed the sentiment: "We have to speak against this dark way with a clear voice. This radicalism of the Sicarii and the thuggish acts by 'price tag' gangs do not represent Judaism. This is not the Israeli way.
"Those who defy the rule of law must be dealt with firmly and without compromise. We will not yield to their edicts and their whims."
Netanyahu and Sa'ar spoke at the International Bible Contest in Jerusalem.
Haredim riot in the city (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Several hours prior to the rally, Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul addressed the recent acts of violence against women in his city, saying such behavior was inexcusable and that "rioters should be dealt with a firm hand.
"Beith Shemesh denounces such behavior. Violent men belong behind bars. I urge the police to take a firm hand against all the rioters, and I call on you (the press) not to label all (the ultra-Orthodox) in the same manner," he said.
MK Nachman Shai had recently presented the Knesset with a bill proposing to label women's exclusion a criminal offence.
The new bill proposes sentencing anyone who incites, preaches or actively excludes women to three years in prison.
Yair Altman and Boaz Fyler contributed to this report
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