Signs demanding women dress modestly in Beit Shemesh spark battle with court. .
(photo credit: ALISA COLEMAN)
The ongoing battle in Beit Shemesh over so-called modesty signs posted by haredi (ultra-Orthodox) extremists that tell women what to wear has now entered a new stage, with the municipality begrudgingly taking down two signs this week, only to have the extremists promptly replace them a day later.
Back in January 2015, a group of Beit Shemesh activists represented by the Reform Movement in Israel successfully petitioned the Beit Shemesh Magistrate’s Court to order the municipality to remove signs which instruct women to dress modestly.
The signs remained in place, however, and the issue eventually reached the Supreme Court earlier this month. It upheld a fine of NIS 5,000 per day – imposed by the Jerusalem District Court against the Beit Shemesh Municipality earlier this year – for contempt of court in failing to remove the signs.
On Sunday, the municipality finally sent officials to remove two signs, including the most prominent one on Nehar Hayarden Street, the main road traversing the extremist neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet.
The officials were accompanied by a police escort, but faced violent opposition by extremist haredi men who rioted and threw stones at the police and municipal officials, smashing the windscreens of two police patrol cars.
By Monday morning, the signs had been replaced.
Despite the municipality’s removal of the signs, the activists remain convinced that Mayor Moshe Abutbul and his municipal council have not dealt with the problem effectively and have not made the necessary efforts to ensure the signs do not go back up.
Alisa Coleman, one of the Beit Shemesh residents and activists
involved in the campaign, said the issue was about enforcing the rule of law.
“The Supreme Court has deemed these signs to be illegal, and so the municipality has to remove them, including if they get put back up. You can’t just make one feeble attempt,” she said. “Can we have anarchy in Beit Shemesh, where the rule of law applies on one side of the street and not the other?”
Miri Shalem, one of the petitioners against the signs, insisted that the municipality should be required to pay the fine for Tuesday, and possibly Monday, and that the petitioners would be demanding as much.
“In my opinion, they shouldn’t get a discount for effort. They need to ensure the signs are permanently removed and bring in the police to ensure that they are not replaced,” she said.
Shalem also noted that the extremists responsible for the signs are getting ready to go to war over the issue, pointing to public notices and pamphlets that have been distributed in the neighborhood calling on residents to protect the physical and spiritual well-being of the neighborhood.
A spokesman for the municipality noted the aggression directed toward municipal officials when taking down the signs and the damage done to the police vehicles, and said it believes the police should be responsible for taking down the signs.
Regarding whether the municipality believes it has fulfilled the court order and should therefore be exempt from the fine, he added, “We are considering our next steps in accordance with the instructions of the court.”