The government will use all legal tools at its disposal to combat the exclusion
and harassment of women in the public square, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
told the cabinet Sunday.
Netanyahu’s comments came as one minister after
the other expressed outrage at the saga of Na’ama Margolis, an eight-year-old
modern Orthodox Beit Shemesh girl featured in a Channel 2 report Friday night
who was spat upon and harassed by extremist haredim (ultra-Orthodox) on her way
to school, some 300 meters from her home.RELATED:
Metzger: Haredim have no right to force segregation on bus
'Discrimination against women to be seen as crime'
PM calls for police to protect women from extremists
“Israel is a Western, liberal
democracy,” Netanyahu said. “In liberal, Western democracies the public space is
open and secure for everyone – men and women alike. There is no room here for
any harassment or discrimination.”
Netanyahu said he spoke to Public
Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Saturday night about the harassment of
women by extremist haredim, and was briefed on actions that have already been
taken and will be taken to arrest and act against those who spit, raise their
hand, or harass women.
Netanyahu said he also asked the government
ministries and municipal authorities to act to remove signs calling for gender
segregation of sidewalks.
“This has no room in a free Western democracy,”
The prime minister said the issue of excluding and separating
women in the public space was not only a legal one, but also one of societal
norms, and called on public leaders and spiritual leaders to work against this
Aharonovitch said that the police had arrested some 21
suspects since the beginning of the school year when extremist haredim in Beit
Shemesh began harassing girls attending the Orot Lebanot School in an effort to
get the school to move. He said that indictments were issued against nine of
Like Netanyahu, Aharonovitch called for more involvement by public
leaders, the head of the communities and municipal officials in condemning the
actions and calming down the situation.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni
spoke on Sunday with Margolis about the situation in Beit Shemesh that followed
up on several reports months ago in The Jerusalem Post. She said her daughter’s
ordeal was part of a nationwide struggle.
“We have a nationalist haredi
coalition that is trying to take control and force its worldview on the Zionist
majority,” Livni said.
Kadima MK Yoel Hasson mocked Netanyahu’s
condemnation of the situation in Beit Shemesh.
“Once again Netanyahu has
woken up too late when it is clear that the situation is already out of
control,” Hasson said. “Elements in our society are becoming more extreme and
are spreading their darkness over the silent majority. This government has no
intention of dealing with this delusional phenomenon.”
Last week, Police
Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Yochanan Danino ordered his commanders and officers to
enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination against
According to guidelines sent by Danino to police commanders, any
form of discrimination against women must be treated as a criminal offense or a
public disorder incident.
Danino accompanied the orders with a
condemnation of the phenomenon, describing “any attempt to harm the rights of
women” as unacceptable.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in the cabinet
that a situation where school-aged girls can’t walk to school without suffering
humiliation was insufferable “The phenomenon of extremists trying to enforce a
certain way of behavior on the public is completely unacceptable,” he
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on Sunday morning told Israel Radio
that the haredi extremists who commit violence against women and girls belong
Steinitz branded the haredim involved as “psychopaths and
He said Interior Minister Eli Yishai should order the mayor of
Beit Shemesh to immediately remove the signs prohibiting women from walking on
certain parts of the sidewalk in haredi neighborhoods.
emphasized that he was referring to small groups of extremists, and not the
entire haredi sector.
Ministry of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat,
meanwhile, drew sharp criticism for remarks that authorities should not
intervene against gender separation in completely haredi areas.
suggested that in places like Betar Illit and Modi’in Illit there should be a
“live and let live” mentality.
“They have a specific way of life, we
don’t need to force a different way of life on them,” Livnat told the Post
outside the City of David on Sunday morning, where she attended a press
conference announcing the discovery of a clay seal from the Second Temple
“They should be able to live their lives on the condition that
it’s not affecting others.”
Livnat clarified that she would continue to
fight for women’s equality in places with mixed communities like Bnei Brak,
Ashdod, and Jerusalem – but not in places with a 100% haredi
“If their women want to live differently, we need to allow
them,” she said.
Yaakov Lappin, Gil Hoffman and Jerusalem Post staff
contributed to this report.