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Maryland County May Dump Beit Shemesh as 'Sister City'

Montgomery County, Maryland, is apparently seeking to get out of a “sister city” deal with Beit Shemesh because of the recent unrest there.
By David Lev
First Publish: 2/12/2012, 6:14 PM

Orot girls school
Orot girls school
Israel new photo: Flash 90

Montgomery County, Maryland, is apparently seeking to get out of a “sister city” deal with Beit Shemesh – in protest over the protests by Hareidi Jews against the Orot School in the city and Hareidi attacks on several women, along with attempts to exclude women from public spaces,  and the apparent failure of the city to deal with the problem properly.

While the sister city program is largely symbolic, such agreements in general do generate closer ties in a number of areas, including education, economic cooperation, and municipal improvement programs. Montgomery County is north of Washington and southwest of Baltimore, and has a large and affluent Jewish population; numerous projects in the city were funded with the help of the Montgomery community.

Montgomery has had a sister pact with Beit Shemesh for several years, but a large and influential group of residents in the county are seeking to put an end to that, the Washington Post reported. The program began in 2007, when Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett visited Beit Shemesh and set up a non-profit group called Montgomery Sister Cities. But, the Post says, numerous residents have been protesting the partnership over news that women in the Israeli city are being “systemically treated with segregation and hate violence,” one Montgomery resident was quoted as saying. Although the problems extend beyong Beit Shemesh, many residents opposed to the extension said that their impression was that Beit Shemesh was among the worst offenders against women, and that Montgomery County had no business twinning with it.

Several meetings on ratifying the renewal of the agreement have been delayed, as pressure has mounted on the government to back out of the deal altogether. Numerous Jewish organizations, including the local Federation, are urging the county to renew the deal. As a substitute, several officials have suggested replacing Beit Shemesh with the Gondar region of Ethiopia – where many Ethiopian immigrants to Israel in the past several years have come from.