PM: No place for harassment or discrimination in Israel

"Israel is liberal western democracy," Netanyahu says at weekly cabinet meeting following reports of haredim harassing 8-year-old girl; Steinitz describes haredi extremists as "villains"; Livnat: "Live and let live."

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Uriel Sinai/Pool
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Uriel Sinai/Pool )
Israel is a western, liberal democracy, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at Sunday's cabinet meeting. Netanyahu's comments came following a Friday night Channel 2 report that showed an eight-year old modern orthodox girl afraid to walk 300 meters to school because of harassment from some haredim because of her attire.
"In liberal, western democracies the public space is open and secure for everyone --  men and women alike. There is no place here for any harassment or discrimination," the prime minister said.
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Netanyahu said he spoke to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Saturday night about the harassment of women by extremist haredim (ultra-Orthodox), and he was briefed on actions that halve already been taken and will be taken to arrest and act against those who spit, raise their hand, or harass women.
The prime minister said he also asked the government ministries and municipal authorities to act to remove signs calling for gender segregation of sidewalls.  "This has no room in a free western democracy," he said.
Netanyahu said the government will use all the legal tools at its disposal to combat the exclusion of women in the public sphere, but said this was not only a legal issue, rather also a societal one. "This is an issue of public and societal norms, and therefore I call on all public leaders and spiritual leaders to work against this phenomenon."
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on Sunday morning told Israel Radio that the haredi extremists who commit violence against women and girls belong behind bars.
Steinitz branded the haredim involved as "psychopaths and villains," during the interview. He added that 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.
Steinitz emphasized that he was referring to small groups of extremists and not the entire haredi sector.
Also commenting on the issue, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat said Sunday that haredi extremism was a "huge" problem.
Earlier in the day she opined that we should "live and let live."
In an interview with Army Radio, Livnat, who leads the Interministerial Committee on the Status of Women, said that in entirely haredi cities, segregation on public transport should be allowed, rather than forced."
She said that when it comes to haredi cities, where all residents are haredim, we must not be "patronizing."
"I don't think we should tell them how to live," Livnat declared. "We should live and let live. "
"When we are speaking about a mixed city, however, or a city where there are haredim or religious people who oppose segregation, we must fight the phenomenon," she added.
Ruth Eglash and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.