Beit Shemesh official: Egged waging ‘defamation campaign’ on haredim

Deputy Mayor Shmuel Greenberg demands apology from company over arrest of couple that attempted to gender-segregate bus.

Haredi bus 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi bus 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Egged bus company is complicit in a “defamation campaign against the haredi public,” Beit Shemesh Deputy Mayor Shmuel Greenberg (United Torah Judaism) stated in an interview with the Chadash Beit Shemesh newspaper published on Friday.
Greenberg, chairman of the Municipal Transportation Committee, criticized Egged over an incident last month in which a haredi couple was briefly detained after asking a woman to move to the back of a 497 bus to Bnei Brak. After passenger Rachel Rosenfeld was asked to vacate her seat at the front of the bus, the driver alerted the police, leading to the arrests. Following the incident, haredi (ultra-Orthodox) extremists rioted, stoning several buses and smashing the windows of one with a hammer.
While forced separation is illegal, the High Court of Justice has ruled that voluntary separation is permissible.
Signs on many Egged buses inform passengers that “each passenger is entitled to sit wherever he chooses (except in seats designated for persons with disabilities), and harassing passengers regarding this matter may be a criminal offense.”
In an extended statement to Chadash, Greenberg said that haredim are arrested “simply because they are haredi” with the story subsequently being “blown out of proportion by the media without even a minimum of objectivity.”
“For Egged, to join the defamation campaign against the haredi public is intolerable, as is their acquiescence to allow their drivers to seek out opportunities for publicity at the expense of travelers,” Greenberg said. It is a shame, he continued, that Egged is acting against passengers “because of their social identity as haredim with no legal footing and without invitation by any of the involved parties.”
“It is superfluous to call these actions [the riot] destructive and damaging. This is neither the way of Torah nor that of its adherents. We must condemn violence in any form whatsoever. This, however, does not justify Egged’s actions, and the public expects to hear a clear apology on the company’s part, along with a clear declaration that they have no intent of taking sides in the aggressive defamation campaign against the haredi public,” he continued.
Greenberg’s comments echoed a sentiment expressed by some haredim in Bet Shemesh who noted that Rosenfeld had refused to press charges, later telling Ynet that the police “were making a big deal out of nothing.”
The detained couple’s “only crime was that they alerted a female passenger that the Beit-Shemesh-Bnei Brak line was a mehadrin [kosher] line as previously agreed with Egged authorities,” a pashkevil, or wall poster, plastered in the haredi neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh read.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Greenberg said, “Egged needs to instruct its drivers not to involve themselves in these incidents.” During the run-up to October’s mayoral elections “there is always a lot of tension in the air and they are making a mountain out of a molehill.”
Municipal spokesman Matityahu Rosenzweig was quick to dissociate Mayor Moshe Abutbol (Shas) from Greenberg’s comments, stating that the deputy mayor was only “speaking for himself.”
“Egged is acting according to the instructions of the Transportation Ministry following the High Court ruling on the matter,” Egged spokesman Ron Ratner told the Post. “In this case, the bus driver acted as necessary and intervened in favor of the woman who was asked to move to the back of the bus. Therefore, such complaints should be addressed to the Transportation Ministry.”
MK Dov Lipman, a Beit Shemesh resident, said that he is “happy that Deputy Mayor Greenberg has found his voice to speak out strongly about important issues” and “hope[s] he uses that voice to condemn anyone who asks a woman to go to the back of a bus and to condemn the hooligans who took to the streets and smashed the windows of buses.”
Lipman denied allegations of a coordinated campaign against the haredi public and asserted that “it is time for politicians from the haredi parties to stop using that line whenever there is criticism against haredim.”
Following comments on social media by local residents supportive of the arrested couple, Nili Philipp, a local political activist involved in the issue of gender discrimination, expressed the view held by many of the modern-Orthodox residents of the city that “even asking a woman to move unjustly puts the onus on her even though she’s done nothing wrong.”
“Regarding asking “nicely,” there have been so many incidents of harassment and outright violence when women didn’t comply with the ‘nice’ requests, that argument is moot,” she said. “If you don’t like sitting near women, walk. Many women comply with these requests out of fear, and don’t complain to the police because they’re unaware of their rights.”
Beit Shemesh mayoral candidate Eli Cohen also slammed Greenberg, saying that discrimination is not allowed on Egged buses and the driver in question was merely “following the rules.”