Supreme Court threatens ultra-Orthodox officials with jail over ‘modesty’ signs

“It won’t happen that women will be excluded from the public domain.”

December 5, 2017 08:31
2 minute read.
Supreme Court threatens ultra-Orthodox officials with jail over ‘modesty’ signs

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men are seen in the southern city of Arad, Israel October 2, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

The Supreme Court of Justice ordered the Beit Shemesh Municipal Authority to remove once and for all so-called “modesty signs” in an extremist Haredi neighborhood of Beit Shemesh that tell women how to dress.

Despite the protestations of the Beit Shemesh authorities that its efforts to remove the signs are thwarted by determined members of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, the court threatened to jail city officials for contempt of court if the offending signs are not permanently removed.

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The signs have been the subject of a protracted legal battle by non-Haredi Beit Shemesh residents who have sought to have the signs removed, leading ultimately to a decision by the Supreme Court in September upholding a fine of NIS 5,000 per day against the Beit Shemesh municipality – that had been imposed by the Jerusalem District Court earlier this year – for contempt of court in failing to remove the signs.

On Monday, the Supreme Court gave a final ultimatum for the Beit Shemesh municipal authority to remove the signs by December 18.

The neighborhood in question, Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, is home to some of the most radical elements in the Haredi community who take a militant position on what is considered to be modest attire for women.

Non-Haredi women have said they are afraid to enter the neighborhood, and those who do report being spat on, cursed and otherwise harassed. IDF soldiers entering the neighborhood have also been subject to severe harassment and intimidation.

“There’s no such thing in Israel – and there won’t be – as a road that’s closed to women,” Judge Hanan Meltzer said.

“The fines have not been paid, and there are other sanctions that can be employed, including prison. Do you really want that to happen?” he asked the Beit Shemesh officials and representatives in court.

“It won’t happen that women will be excluded from the public domain,” Meltzer said.

In light of the efforts already made by the Beit Shemesh municipality to remove the signs, and the fact that the extremists subsequently replaced the signs, the court ordered the police to increase its presence in the city in the troublesome spots, and to be present for an extended period after the signs are taken down to ensure they stay down.

Representatives of the police agreed to these demands and said that the police would heighten its presence along Nahar Hayarden Street in particular, a major thoroughfare through Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, at the end of which is the largest and most recognized “modesty” sign.

Hazon Ish Street will also see an increased police presence.

The Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement, which has represented the non-Haredi petitioners against the signs, welcomed the ruling, saying that the state could not reconcile itself with a situation in which the rights of women in Beit Shemesh – or anywhere else in the country – are so badly violated.

“We, who stand at the forefront of the war against discrimination against women in Israel, see this ruling as a great victory for the rule of law over the regime of violence, and for the rights of women and equality,” IRAC attorney Orly Erez Lahovsky said.

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