Haredi arrested for harassing female soldier on bus

Suspect called passenger ‘slut’ and ‘shiksa’ while insisting she move to back; MK Hotovely to ride at front of segregated Beit Shemesh bus.

Haredi man near a bus 311 (photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
Haredi man near a bus 311
(photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
Jerusalem Police arrested a 45-year-old haredi man who allegedly yelled, “Slut!” at a female soldier on an Egged bus on Wednesday morning.
It was the latest in a series of discriminatory incidents against women in haredi (ultra-Orthodox) areas.
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According to police, the soldier was sitting toward the front of bus No. 49, which runs from the northern Neveh Ya’acov neighborhood through Ramat Eshkol toward the haredi neighborhood of Sanhedria.
A man in haredi garb allegedly asked the 19-year-old soldier, Doron Matalon, to move to the back of the bus. When she ignored him, he reportedly called her a slut and continued to harass her.
Matalon told reporters that other men started joining in, calling her “slut” and “shiksa” and insisting she move to the back of the bus, until the driver called the police.
“It was very frightening,” Matalon told Israel Radio, adding that she had replied to the man, “You can move to the back if you want. Just like you don’t want to see my face, I don’t want to see yours.”
She told him that she was “serving our country, which unfortunately means I am also defending you.”
The man was arrested and removed from the bus on Eshkol Boulevard, and the bus continued on its route.
The suspect will be brought to court on Thursday, when police will ask for an extension of his remand until the end of their investigation.
Jerusalem Police Chief Nisso Shaham spoke at an emergency session of the Knesset Economics Committee dealing with the recent incidences of discrimination against women, and said the man arrested would be dealt with “very severely.”
“Enforcement alone is not enough.
They need to take a stand as a community, or perhaps a change in legislation [is needed], in order for these people to start getting concerned,” Shaham said.
Because it serves primarily Orthodox neighborhoods, the No. 49 bus is one of the lines considered “de facto mehadrin,” meaning men sit in the front and women sit in the back.
In January, the High Court of Justice accepted the recommendations of the Transportation Ministry, mandating that seating on Egged buses be completely voluntary. The passengers may decide to sit separately according to gender, but it is illegal for passengers to force someone to sit in a specific part of the bus.
In a related development, MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) plans to sit at the front of a gender-segregated bus to Jerusalem on Thursday.
Hotovely, the chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, announced that she would ride from Beit Shemesh to the capital on Egged bus No. 418, in which women are asked to sit in the back.
The MK, who identifies as national-religious, said that as a university student, she had often ridden buses with haredi passengers. When she was asked to move to the back, she would say, “This is public transportation, and I can sit where I like.”
She also plans to visit the Orot Bnot school in Beit Shemesh, which has been the center of controversy since it opened in September. Joining her will be MKs Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) and Shlomo Molla (Kadima).
At Wednesday’s Economics Committee meeting, committee chairman Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud) and the other MKs condemned the phenomenon of mehadrin bus lines.
Shama-Hacohen asked that the Transportation Ministry take steps to ensure that women are not pressured to sit in the back of the bus against their will and to ban boarding buses from the rear entrance, unless the passenger is handicapped or a parent with a child in a stroller.
Shaham called on rabbis to condemn verbal and physical violence against women who wish to sit at the front of the bus, saying that a small group of extremists was threatening the entire haredi public. He said the police planned to work to eliminate attacks on female passengers on mehadrin buses.
He added that very few women had complained to the police about problems on the mehadrin lines, and he assumed that many more had been harassed.
Hotovely pointed out that only a small percentage of women who were sexually assaulted complained to the police, and said she found it unlikely that many women would make the effort to report an incident on a bus.
MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) said that although gender separation on buses was voluntary, a haredi woman would need “insane courage” to sit in the front.
Molla said that even allowing voluntary separation was “disgraceful and scandalous.”
MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), meanwhile, said that spending time discussing violence on mehadrin buses was giving in to terror from the small extremist haredi group Sikrikim. He added that it was important to respect communities with a different lifestyle.
According to MK Haim Amsalem (Shas), segregated lines were established 20 years ago because buses did not come often enough and would become crowded. In such a situation, men and women could accidentally touch, which would be uncomfortable for haredi passengers.
Amsalem suggested that Egged add more buses to each line, and then mehadrin buses would be unnecessary.
However, MK Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism) said that the problem was secular hatred for the haredi community, and cited comments on websites calling to kill haredim.
Eichler argued that the option of voluntary gender separation should not be banned.
“It’s true, my parents and I did not ride segregated buses, but we cannot prevent a woman from getting on the bus however she wants, and I think women’s organizations should also stand up for haredi women’s rights,” he said.
Also on Wednesday, the Knesset rejected a proposal by MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) to create a parliamentary inquiry committee on discrimination against women, with 31 in favor and 48 opposed.
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat (Likud), who heads the Interministerial Committee on the Status of Women, pointed out that there was already a regular Knesset committee on women’s rights, and posited that perhaps Gal-On was trying to generate headlines ahead of the Meretz leadership race.
Gal-On responded that she was not trying to hold a competition over who was the most feminist, and warned the plenum that Israel was heading towards “Talibanization.”