'Beit Shemesh anti-segregation rally political'

Protest against ultra-orthodox extremism planned; Shas-affiliated mayor voices support, but doubts organizers' motives.

Mea Shearim segregation 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Mea Shearim segregation 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbol (Shas) said Tuesday that he agrees with those set to protest ultra-Orthodox gender segregation in the city, but believes the demonstration's organizers are driven by political considerations.
"I support the position of those protesting in the city tonight, but the fact that they did not invite me to attend proves that the motives of the organizers are political," Abutbol said in an Army Radio interview.
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Abutbol rejected claims that his policies had contributed to the rise of haredi extremism in Beit Shemesh.
"It is not the mayor's role to do the job of the police," Abutbol stated.
Police deployed extra reinforcements to supervise a solidarity protest scheduled to take place Tuesday night next to the Beit Orot School. The demonstration is being organized by Yisrael Hofshit religious freedom movement and the Committee to Save Beit Shemesh, among others.
Thousands have already confirmed their attendance on social networking sites, and representatives from the haredi community are also expected to attend.
Also on Tuesday, MK Nachman Shai (Kadima) submitted to the Knesset a bill proposal that would define gender segregation as a criminal act punishable with a prison sentence.
The bill would provide for a sentence of three years for anyone charged with "publicizing, inciting, preaching or encouraging gender segregation in the public sphere," according to a statement released by Shai.
Additionally, violations of the law committed in order to facilitate gender segregation or hostility towards the public because of gender affiliation will carry either a double penalty for the crime or a ten year prison sentence.
"The bill proposal is meant to prevent and act decisively against those working to degrade and humiliate women in Israel," Shai explained.
On Monday, tension raged in Beit Shemesh for the second day in a row as extremist ultra-Orthodox protesters clashed with police. Six Beit Shemesh residents were arrested for allegedly disrupting the peace throughout the day as hundreds demonstrated against the increased police and media presence.
Three of the haredim who were arrested were set to have their remand extended on Tuesday, Israel Police reported. Two of those arrested, minors who were arrested for throwing eggs during a demonstration, were put under house arrest and ordered to stay out of Beit Shemesh.