CNN‘s Belief Blog reports: Eight-year-old Naama Margolis is afraid to walk to school.
She’s afraid, her mother says, because life has become a nightmare for anyone who doesn’t follow the edicts of the ultra-Orthodox Jews who have flocked in recent years to their city of 80,000 just outside of Jerusalem.
“They threaten everyone in town over everything they don’t like,” Hadassah Margolis told CNN on Monday. “We have suffered swearing, they have had eggs, tomatoes, stink bombs and rocks thrown at us. They do this to anyone who doesn’t think, look or act as they do.”
“I’m afraid when one of them passes by me,” she earlier told Israel’s Channel 2 “I don’t know if he will spit on me or will curse me ‘whore’, ‘slut’, “bastards” ‘go away from here’ – exactly in those words.”
The Margolis family, whose story was detailed Friday in a nationwide television broadcast, is the latest in a series of high-profile examples of what critics say are attempts by groups within Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community to impose its religious beliefs on the public and excise women from the public sphere.
Last week, for instance, a young Israeli woman made headlines when she detailed her experience refusing a ultra-Orthodox man’s demands that she sit in the back of a bus. Several well-publicized rallies have also voiced opposition to various forms of gender segregation favored by the ultra-Orthodox.
In addition to demanding more modesty and trying to segregate bus passengers, ultra-Orthodox Jews have posted unofficial signs in some neighborhoods commanding men and women to walk on different sides of the street.
In the Jerusalem Post, Ruth Eglash writes: Whereas in the past most of Israeli society and the authorities simply tolerated haredi demonstrations and even saw the harassment of women as just part of the “ultra-Orthodox experience,” today ever more people are becoming frustrated with such religious zealotry, which been continuing unchecked for years.
Israeli society – backed by politicians both male and female, on the left and on the right, and even religious and secular – are pretty much in agreement that this extremism and any sort of discrimination against women is wrong and must be stopped.
Last week, at a Tel Aviv conference, female lawmakers and leaders emphasized their determination to halt any more attacks against women’s place in society. This week, women’s rights activists are preparing a mass protest on Wednesday, having already vowed to battle this phenomenon head-on.
Even Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu voiced his determination to put an end to this dangerous trend, stating in his cabinet meeting Sunday, “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.”
Netanyahu said that he has already called on the Israel Police to take full action “to arrest and stop those who spit, harass or raise a hand.”
The problem, however, is that it may be too late for the government to reign in these religious fanatics who seem prepared to defend their extreme beliefs at all costs, even if it means jeopardizing the Jewish state’s precarious religious-secular status quo and even starting some form of civil war.