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Wednesday, December 27, 2017 

Knesset committee takes tour of radical Haredi neighborhoods in Ramat Beit Shemesh

There's a mixed blessing in this, because some of the committee members are leftists, and the bad part is that Knesset coalition members did not join:
The head of the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women, MK Aida Touma-Sliman, accused the police of failing to implement the rule of law in Beit Shemesh, the site of an ongoing fight to remove so-called modesty signs in radical Haredi neighborhoods and make the areas safe for members of the non-ultra-Orthodox public.

Her comments were made during a tour of Beit Shemesh, conducted by the committee to examine the situation in such neighborhoods, following efforts by the municipality and the police to remove signs demanding that women dress conservatively.

But despite several operations in recent days conducted by the Beit Shemesh Municipal Authority with the backing of the police, some modesty signs have reappeared.

At the bottom of Nahar Hayarden Street, a major thoroughfare traversing Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, one of the most radical neighborhoods in the city, a sign telling women to dress modestly has been hung at the top of a prominent building where a much-larger sign used to hang.

In other parts of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, stickers have been plastered on bus stops, road signs and charity boxes that say: “Stop – Haredi neighborhood! Passage is only with modest clothing!” Similar warnings have been hung in the same neighborhood where some of the larger signs used to be, or simply spray-painted onto walls.

On Hazon Ish Street in the Nahala U’Menucha neighborhood, a sign telling women to walk on the other side of the road has been replaced with one that reads: “Women are requested to refrain from using/tarrying on this sidewalk.”

During the tour, MKs Aida Touma-Sliman, Leah Fadida, Mossi Raz and Ksenia Svetlova walked around one of the most notorious junctions in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, accompanied by activists and members of the press.

Large numbers of Haredi residents then began gathering at the junction. While some residents shouted, several women engaged a few of the MKs in conversation.

At one point, two activists removed signs that had been posted during the tour. Four of the MKs then posed to be photographed with one of the signs.

“People gathered around and we felt intimidation and threatened, and a feeling that ‘This is our territory and soon we will eject you from here,’” Touma-Sliman told The Jerusalem Post.

She expressed concern that residents felt able to act in a threatening manner toward members of the tour, even though it was a formal visit by a Knesset delegation.

“I tried to imagine to myself – what it would be like if I was a woman by myself, without the security personnel, without it being a formal tour of the Knesset, and I am sure that they would have been unrestrained in such a situation.”
Since this is an Arabic MK we're talking about, does she feel the same way about some Islamic-dominated neighborhoods in Jerusalem and elsewhere, which have become no-go zones even before this Haredi-dominated neighborhood did?

Following this, the Yeshiva World website took a most hostile view of the visit, claiming it to be "a flop", in a short item that appears to be filled with falsehoods - at least in the headline - like this being an otherwise "Reform" campaign:
In the wake of the riots in recent weeks following the uprooting of the modesty signs by the Beit Shemesh Municipality, which caused an uproar and resulted in the replacement of the signs that were removed, MKs from the Committee on the Status of Women and Reform organizations arrived Sunday morning 6 Teves to “closely monitor” The “status of women” in the city – including regarding signs calling for gender segregation on sidewalks.

Knesset members and activists came to Beit Shemesh on a bus accompanied by the media, while touring the city and provoking the residents.
Oh, so the Knesset committee "provoked" the residents? More blame-the-victim rhetoric that's unhelpful.
A group of extremists congregated in the area and caused a stir in an effort to oust the unwanted guests. The visiting women tried to remove the signs that were replaced, but were prohibited from doing so by the presence of residents.
Umm, not really. They did remove some of them, as noted above. So why are they trying to claim otherwise?

Here's another report in Haaretz:
Israeli lawmakers descended Sunday on Beit Shemesh, a city that has come to epitomize the struggle over religious radicalization in the country, accusing municipal leaders of complicity in violating the rights of women there.

The accusations were leveled during a fact-finding trip by the Knesset committee for the status of women, aimed at ascertaining why the city has failed to comply with recent court rulings that found it in violation of regulations prohibiting the exclusion of women from public spaces.

For the past five years, battles have been waged in the central Israeli city between ultra-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox residents. The main source of conflict has been so-called “modesty signs,” plastered around the city by ultra-Orthodox residents.

Some of the controversial signs instruct women how to dress, requiring them to wear long sleeves and long skirts and no tight-fitting clothing. Others admonish women to keep off the sidewalks near synagogues and yeshivas, where men tend to congregate.

The ultra-Orthodox account for about half the population of 110,000 in Beit Shemesh, and their share has grown rapidly in recent years.

Earlier this month, the High Court of Justice ordered the city to tear down all the remaining modesty signs in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and instructed police to stand on guard to make sure that new signs were not put up to replace them. The city was given until December 18 to take down the signs.

Last week, Mayor Moshe Abutbul notified the court that no sooner had the signs been removed than new ones had put up in their place. He said he had no power to prevent this.
Forget it, he does, and so do the police. I think they have some blame to shoulder here too, and their possible failure to ensure this doesn't keep going on is inexcusable.
But following their tour on Sunday, the Knesset committee members accused the city of not enforcing the law vigilantly enough. The city had not bothered to put up a surveillance camera at an intersection where many of the new signs appeared, they said. In addition, they charged, the city had been lax about collecting fines from infringers.

“I did not see any police around here today, and I do not feel that there has been any enforcement,”
said Aida Touma-Suliman, chair of the Knesset committee and a member of the Joint Arab List, during a wrap-up session at the end of the tour. She directed her comments at Matti Choteh, director-general of the municipality – the only representative of the city on the tour.

“What I see is a state within a state,” she continued, "without any laws, where women are oppressed. It is horrifying that the city and the police are not doing more.”
While some of her complaints in themselves are valid, again, I have to note the hypocrisy of somebody who sees nothing wrong with imposition of sharia - which the Haredi extremists have been emulating - complaining about what's sadly been taking place over the years in Beit Shemesh.
For Touma- Suliman, who found herself in the unusual position, as an Arab lawmaker, of trying to resolve a conflict between different denominations of Jews, it was a first-ever trip to Beit Shemesh. “I can say that I felt lots of tension in the air,” she remarked, “as well as a blatant attempt to intimidate us. If this is what I felt after just a few hours, I can only imagine what the women who live here full time must experience.”
And yet, what about the situation in some Muslim neighborhoods? The Haredi extremists have basically been imitating them over the years, and her failure to admit the paralells is just why she herself is unfit to comment. That's the sad part of this whole affair.
The campaign to remove the controversial modesty signs has been led by a group of Modern Orthodox women, most of them immigrants from English–speaking countries. Nili Philipp, a driving force in the struggle, said that ever since the High Court ruled earlier this month that all the signs must be removed, she and members of her family have received death threats.

Philipp and her fellow activists joined the Knesset members on their trip through the city. The Knesset delegation included only representatives of the opposition parties, among them only one man. The trip was initiated by the Israel Religious Action Center, the local advocacy arm of the Reform movement, which has been representing Philipp and her cohorts in court.

Tensions flared when members of the Knesset delegation decided to get off the bus taking them around town to view some of the controversial signage up close. During their tour of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, lawmakers were confronted by angry residents demanding that they leave because they were not dressed modestly.

“If you don’t want to show us respect, then you can’t be here,” an ultra-Orthodox woman told Touma-Suliman.

“How would you feel,” Touma-Suliman shot back at her, “if I told you that you couldn’t come into my house if you didn’t take your head covering off because I find it offensive?”
While the Haredi woman was certainly in the wrong, so too is Suliman if she's got no issue with Muslim burkas. Assuming the info above is true, it's regrettable if coalition members didn't join.
The lawmakers were shocked to discover a pedestrian crossing at a main intersection in the neighborhood marked with the following words: “Cross with modest clothing.”

They found another sign near a synagogue directing men to the right and women to the left. After grabbing the sign, Touma-Suliman paraded around with it in the street. “I intend to hang this up in our Knesset committee room,” she said.

Philipp and another activist, with their own hands, proceeded to tear down some of the offensive signs.

Participants on the tour also discovered graffiti on the wall of a synagogue declaring: “No entrance for Reform [Jews].”

A group of ultra-Orthodox men congregated on a corner in an attempt to intimidate the group. Despite the tense mood, no violence erupted.

Philipp explained to the lawmakers that residents of Beit Shemesh had no choice but to pass through this neighborhood to reach other sections of the city. She said that she and her daughters were often spat on when they did.

Late last week, MK Israel Eichler from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, urged Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to call off the planned trip by the committee, terming it a “provocation.” Allowing Reform women to parade through an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, he said, was no different than allowing right-wing Jewish radicals to parade through an Arab town.

“The sole purpose of this trip is to spark a provocation for the media,” he alleged. “This trip will only advance the status of Reform women’s organizations.”
Eichler's objections are the very reason Islamofascists are able to gain footholds. His comments practically give legitimacy to Islam, and are degrading to rightists.
IRAC first filed suit against the city of Beit Shemesh and its mayor four years ago, demanding that they remove the modesty signs.

The Beit Shemesh Magistrate's Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in January 2015 and ordered the municipality to pay the women damages for its negligence in handling the matter. Despite that ruling, the signs were not removed, and the plaintiffs were forced to take their suit to a higher court.

In June 2016, the Jerusalem District Court gave Abutbul three weeks to remove the illegal signs and to act more vigilantly against offenders. After the mayor did not comply with that ruling either, this past June, the Jerusalem District Court responded to a request submitted by IRAC and declared him in contempt of court. It ordered the city to pay 10,000 shekels ($2,860) a day in fines until all the signs were removed.

Abutbul tried to get the High Court to overturn this decision but failed, with the justices declaring earlier this month, as they read their ruling, that the exclusion of women will not be tolerated in any city in Israel.

Touma-Suliman said that she and the members of her committee had no intention of creating provocations. “We come to places where women feel threatened, excluded and victimized – that is our job,” she said.
Unfortunately, they don't come to the aid of any women suffering the same in Muslim dominated neighborhoods. Something Eichler evidently has no concerns about either.
In his defense, Chotem, the director-general of the city, said that plans were under way to put up surveillance cameras in the neighborhood where new signs had appeared. He noted, however, that a surveillance camera put up in another part of the city had already been sabotaged.

“Over the past month, we have gone out three times to remove signs, but within a day, the signs are back up,” he said.

Chotem said it was also important to be sensitive to the lifestyle of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

“I don’t want to hear about ‘cultural sensitivity,’” responded Touma-Sliman. “Whenever people talk about ‘cultural sensitivity,’ it’s because they want to legitimize oppression of women. Suddenly they’re ‘sensitive.’”

Touma-Sliman said she intended to meet with Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan and discuss with him ways to better enforce the court decisions.
I'm sure she will hear about cultural sensitivity, however, when it comes to Islam. While this tour itself is crucial for fact finding, the downside is that it was led by all the wrong people, and even the Haredi members of the Knesset like Eichler aren't doing any favors with their own double-standards.

This report on INN is a bit better written.

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