The government of Israel, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are taking action to stop ultra-orthodox extremists from bullying young girls for don’t follow their strict dress code. This has long been a problem in areas of Israel (and the U.S. for that matter) controlled by these nuts, but the story of a little girl shown on Israeli TV seems to have galvanized the reaction to it:
Israel has a new and unlikely national heroine. She is a small, blond, bespectacled Orthodox 8-year-old girl, the daughter of American immigrants who live in Beit Shemesh. Her name is Na’ama Margolese and she was featured in a news broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2 about the ongoing Haredi harassment of the girls who attend the Orot Banot School, and about the problem of extreme Haredi control in Beit Shemesh in general.
Naama spoke on camera of her fears while walking the short distance from her home to her school, after numerous occasions when she was cursed at and even once spit on by the Haredi demonstrators. Israeli viewers watched as her mother, Hadassah, holding her hand, tried to convince her to make the short walk as she cried, whined and protested; it’s a ritual they go through every school day.
The loonies here also demand that the buses force women to ride in the back and that the city mandate that men and women can’t walk down the same sidewalk. The Israeli government seems to have had enough:
Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who clearly sensed where the political winds were blowing, went on a public relations push over the weekend to show he was taking action. Ynet reported that he “asked Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Saturday to instruct the police to act firmly against violent attacks targeting women in the public sphere.” In the aftermath of the Channel 2 story and the reaction, the ultra-Orthodox mayor of Beit Shemesh ordered workers took down street signs that directed women to cross the street and “not linger” in front of a synagogue. As they did so, Haredim threw rocks and called the municipal workers ‘Nazis.’
Here are Netanyahu’s comments during a recent cabinet meeting:
“Israel is a democratic, Western, liberal state. The public sphere is open and safe for everyone – men and women alike. There is no place for harassment or discrimination.
Last night, I spoke with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch who told me about the actions that have already been taken. I also spoke with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. The Israel Police are taking, and will take, action to arrest and stop those who spit, harass or raise a hand. I also ask government ministries and enforcement agencies to work to remove signs that call for separation on sidewalks. This has no place in a free and democratic state. While we will use all legal means at our disposal, I would like to emphasize that this is not just a legal issue. It is also a social issue. It is also a question of public and social norms; therefore, I appeal to all public figures and spiritual leaders to act against this phenomenon. The public sphere in Israel will be open and safe for all.”
I hope they follow through on it.