'No tolerance for discrimination against women'

J’lem police chief insists anyone who disturbs the rights of women in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods will be arrested.

Mea Shearim segregation 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Mea Shearim segregation 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Women’s rights took center stage in Jerusalem on Tuesday, as Jerusalem Police chief Nisso Shaham insisted that the police would continue implementing a “zero tolerance” policy for anyone trying to force women in the capital’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to use separated buses or sidewalks.
“Anyone who disturbs the rights of women will be arrested, even if it’s part of his DNA to do so,” said Shaham on Tuesday in the ultra-Orthodox Mea She’arim neighborhood.
“We’re not going to allow this, though changing their worldview is going to take us a very long time,” he added.
Tuesday also marked the local community council elections in four neighborhoods across Jerusalem: Gilo, Greater Baka, Katamon and Southern neighborhoods, and Bucharim/Geula/Mea She’arim.
The head of the Geula community council, Rabbi Ya’acov Fertig, who was running for reelection, had insisted that there would be separate lines at the polls or separate voting times for men and women in the ultra- Orthodox neighborhoods. Police responded with a large undercover presence at the polling stations to ensure that there was no separation.
“Everything is flowing normally, there are no problems,” said Yitzhak Trajtengot, the secretary of the election committee in the Bucharim Quarter.
Approximately 1,500 residents had voted for an all-male candidate list by 3 p.m. There were originally two female candidates, but they both dropped out of the race.
“The women wanted to be a part of the community council, but not through elections, with advertisements and posters,” explained a local woman involved with organizing the elections, who insisted on anonymity. “It wasn’t modest.”
The woman added that “we need to find a way to bring them into the leadership, so they can bring their experience to education, culture and other issues. They’re mothers at home, and they have a lot to offer.”
She encouraged the municipality to find an alternative solution to bring women to the community council.
For each council, nine members are chosen by popular election, and six are appointed by the municipality.
Just a few hundred meters down the street from where Shaham spoke to reporters and where residents voted, more than 100 ultra-Orthodox protesters blocked the road to stop a No. 1 Egged bus, a line that resumed service within Mea She’arim 10 days ago. Egged stopped serving the inner parts of the neighborhood a year and a half ago after extremists used violence against the buses, drivers and passengers because the buses were not “mehadrin,” or separated by gender.
The High Court of Justice has ruled that mehadrin buses are illegal. The resumption of the No. 1 has been met with sporadic stone-throwing incidents.
Tuesday’s incident constituted the greatest disturbance the line has faced since its return.
Police used force to disperse the demonstrators, and one officer was hit in the head with a rock thrown by one of the protesters.
He was lightly wounded and brought to Bikur Cholim Hospital for treatment.
The demonstrators claimed that their opposition stemmed from the fact that the roads were too narrow and passing buses endangered their children. To illustrate that point, one protester overturned his stroller in front of the bus and left it there, with his toddler still strapped inside.
“For 60 years, the buses came through here and no one made that claim [about narrow roads],” said Shaham. “They made this claim only after we decided to bring back the No. 1 line.... The road didn’t get narrower, it was built that way.”
Shaham said the entire Jerusalem Police force would be involved in the effort to stop discrimination against women in the public sphere and other places.
He stressed that the violence and calls for separation were coming from a small, dominant minority, made up of no more than a few hundred extremists.