The Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality met with protests as it toured the city of Bet Shemesh on Sunday, December 24. The committee members expressed their opposition to the “modesty signs” posted at the entrances of some of the city’s predominantly Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhoods.
Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the Bet Shemesh municipality must remove the signs. Last week, city employees came to the neighborhood, accompanied by the Bet Shemesh police, and removed the signs. However, the signs were posted again almost immediately by a group of residents acting without authorization from city hall. Last Wednesday, the municipality again removed the signs.
Haredi MK Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism) tried to cancel the Knesset committee’s tour, arguing that the visit would be a “provocation.” However, the tour proceeded as planned.
In addition to the committee members, representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry for Social Equality, the State Attorney’s Office, the Bet Shemesh Municipality and the Reform Center for Religion and State were also invited to participate in the tour.
The committee members encountered signs which read: “Please walk here only when dressed modestly” and “Men on the right side of the stairs and women on the left.” During the visit, verbal confrontations were recorded with residents of a neighborhood who protested the committee’s tour there.
Committee chairperson Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) said at the start of the tour: “It’s important for me to say that we are not here to defy or to cause provocations, and if any occur, they will not be from our side. We are here because we are doing our job, going to places where women have told us that they feel deprived, and that they are oppressed and excluded.”
Addressing the women of Bet Shemesh, MK Touma-Sliman said: “If this is the resistance that we endured only because we wanted to go on a study tour [on behalf of] the State, then I can only imagine what you’ve been going through for years. We are here to let you know that you are not alone.”
“The criminal exclusion from which the women of the city suffer, as well as women everywhere in Israel, must stop. Bet Shemesh belongs to all its residents, and no one has the right to act otherwise,” she added. “The municipality should do more, and the interior minister must intervene urgently in this matter.”