Smashed windows and arrests: Haredi demand for woman to sit at back of bus gets out of hand

Beit Shemesh police called in after row spirals on Egged bus.

Haredi bus 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi bus 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Religious conflict returned to Beit Shemesh on Wednesday, with extremists perpetrating violent incidents on two separate buses after more than a year of relative quiet in the increasingly ultra- Orthodox city.
Around noon on Wednesday, police detained an ultra- Orthodox man who demanded that a woman move to the back of an Egged bus that was headed to Bnei Brak.
In addition to the haredi man, police also apprehended a haredi woman for causing a public disturbance.
Shortly afterward, the police reported that haredim had thrown stones at three buses in the city.
Two people were arrested for causing a public disturbance with regard to the stone-throwing, police said.
According to Beit Shemesh Corner, a local news website, when the 417 bus to Jerusalem pulled into a stop, four men blocked the bus from leaving while three others broke the windows with “a hammer that is commonly found on buses to smash open windows in case of an emergency.”
Egged spokesman Ron Ratner confirmed the report, telling The Jerusalem Post that members of an “extreme haredi group” attacked the 417 bus from Ramat Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem and “broke the windows... with a hammer.”
Egged takes discrimination against women and the act of “forcing them to the back of the bus” very seriously, Ratner said. “The Beit Shemesh police are investigating the matter, and we at Egged expect that they will get the ruffians and criminals and bring them to justice.”
According to Yediot Aharonot, while the haredim did request that the woman move to the back of the bus, she moved freely and of her own accord.
The woman in question told the Hebrew-language newspaper that the driver and the police “were making a big deal out of nothing,” and she seemed to disapprove of the arrest of the couple who had asked her to move.
Beit Shemesh has largely been quiet since violence peaked in late 2011, when extremists held daily protests outside the national-religious Orot Banot school, spitting on young girls and calling them “whores.” But the situation has the potential to deteriorate once again, a source affiliated with the local police told the Post.
Citing the increase of violence against haredi soldiers, he said that the police now “are looking out more and more for haredi-on-nonharedi violence.”
Much of the violence in Beit Shemesh has originated from Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, a hassidic neighborhood situated between the more moderate haredi neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef and the national-religious neighborhood of Sheinfeld.
Several incidents of violence against women in Beit Shemesh were recorded last year, including an attack on Vered Daniel, a mother who had stones thrown at her while she was trying to buy a baby carriage, and who was saved by local haredi women who came to her aid.
The rabbinic authorities in Beit Shemesh do not approve of violence, said Yaakov Haber, the rabbi and spiritual leader of the Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun synagogue in Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef.
“Anyone who [perpetrates] violence is not endorsed by anyone, and there is not one rabbi or leader in the haredi community who endorses violence,” he told the Post. “I have personally spoken to every single one who is a legitimate leader.”
Despite what seems to be widespread opposition to violence, however, there has not been a significant public outcry against it.
During the height of the violence surrounding Orot Banot, several national-religious rabbis circulated a petition among their ultra- Orthodox colleagues condemning the use of violence, but most of them refused to sign.
The signatories “included only rabbis on the edge of haredi society; more mainstream haredi rabbis refused to co-sign it. I don’t believe for a moment that they support the violence, but they are not willing to openly protest it,” local rabbi and blogger Natan Slifkin told the Post last year.
Among those who declined to condemn the extremists officially was Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz, rabbi of the Beis Tefilla synagogue.
In an email exchange that community activists reposted on the Internet, Malinowitz explained that he declined to sign “because I will not be meshatef pe’ula [a collaborator] with people that I hold have a definite anti-haredi agenda here, loving every minute of this, and painting all ‘haredim’ with the same brush.”
He added that “to my mind, this is like demanding that every Italian condemn bank robbery after the Mafia pulls off a job. That every Russian condemn murder after the Russian Mafia has someone killed.”
Yoni Sprecher, a longtime national-religious resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef, told the Post that he believed that “most haredim here are too afraid of the crazies, [and] so are their rabbis.”
The Tov party, a local movement representing the moderate haredi community, issued a statement to the Post condemning the violence and welcoming “the rapid police operation against rioters.”
“We see a great need for dialogue, but using violence loses one his place at the table,” a party spokesman said.
Local activist Nili Phillip told the Post that while the police response was heartening, “the Beit Shemesh Municipality has yet to issue a public statement condemning harassment and violence against women in the city’s streets, nor has it made any effort to remove the public and illegal signs that discriminate against women.”
This “negligence,” she said, “only encourages the extremists to continue their attacks on women.”
Neither Mayor Moshe Abutbol nor his spokesman Matityahu Rosenzweig answered repeated calls for comment.
However, opponents of Abutbol were quick to call for tough action against extremists.
Aliza Bloch, the Bayit Yehudi candidate for mayor, said that “we must not under any circumstances allow a handful of extremists to impose terror on the entire city.”
She called for using an “iron fist” against those who would use violence to enforce their values, and she said such behavior must be “eradicated.”
Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman, a local rabbi, stated that the “Torah makes it clear that it is forbidden to degrade women, and there is no place for this in Israeli society.”
Abutbol must “act immediately in installing surveillance cameras, as he promised,” Lipman urged.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.