Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has ordered the police and attorney general to take all measures to stop harassment against women – or me, he said at the start of Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting.
“There is no place in [Israel] for discrimination. The police will continue to arrest all those who spit, raise their hand, and harass,” he said.
Saturday night, police arrested a hareidi religious man for spitting a religious woman in Beit Shemesh, located several miles west of Jerusalem.
“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,” said the Prime Minister. 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."
Separate seating demanded by some hareidi religious communities catapulted the issue of attitudes toward women in Israel into the headlines last week.
The more extreme measure of separate sidewalks in a few religious communities in small neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh were also undertaken earlier this year. The idea was initially treated as an interesting curiosity that made for entertaining reading.
However, the issue of separate seating, which involves a more direct issue of Jewish laws concerning modesty and contact with women in some hareidi religious communities, set off a media and political broadside that some orthodox Jews allegedly treat women as second-class citizens.
The number of people who actually demand separate sidewalks is tiny, and one Beit Shemesh official estimated the group at less than 200 people. Concerning separate seating on public buses, most hareidi religious rabbis have said that it should only be implemented if it is voluntary, as the High Court has ruled, and only in predominantly hareidi religious areas.
Minister Uzi Landau tried to separate the extremists from the general population, saying “hareidi extremists should be dealt with like leftist anarchists and right-wing settler youth" who vandalize mosques and attack soldiers.