Wed, Dec 28, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Jewish campaign turns violent

AFP, BEIT SHEMESH, ISRAEL

An Orthodox Jewish man, left, argues with another man in Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, on Monday during a protest against the Israeli government’s pledge to curb Jewish zealotry. Israeli police arrested several Orthodox protesters.

Photo: Reuters

Clashes erupted on Monday between police and several hundred Orthodox Jews from a town near Jerusalem who are campaigning for men and women to be segregated, a 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 Orthodox men, telling them to “clear off,” the journalist said.

There were also shouting matches between Orthodox and secular Jews.

Residents of Beit Shemesh, a town of about 80,000 people 30km west of Jerusalem, showered police and television crews with eggs, and also set fire to refuse bins.

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

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said one policeman was slightly hurt by a thrown stone.

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

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

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

The Haaretz newspaper said the cameraman from commercial station Channel Two was thrown to the ground and his sound recordist grabbed by the throat in the attack by 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 said. “Municipal inspectors have been working in the street taking down posters ... Police have stepped up patrols in Beit Shemesh.”

Unnamed Orthodox activists representing the Beit Shemesh community issued a statement in which they spoke out against the scuffles and stoning events, but blamed it on the media.

“We condemn violence in any form and shape, but at the same time condemn the wild incitement of the media that initiates deliberate provocations in order to make the peaceful, quiet and tolerant residents, who live their lives according to their beliefs, look bad,” the statement said.

Images broadcast on Channel Two last week of an Orthodox man in Beit Shemesh spitting at a woman led to his arrest on Saturday night. He was freed by magistrates on Sunday.

The broadcast also featured an eight-year-old girl terrified to walk the short distance between her home and school, since she is subject to verbal abuse of Orthodox men who claim her attire is not sufficiently “modest.”

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to crack down on acts of gender separation and Orthodox violence toward women.

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

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

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