Two men from the large ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit were arrested Monday, ostensibly for organizing the city’s “modesty police” squads — groups that monitor the behavior, dress, and religious character of young men and women.
An undercover police investigation led to suspicions that the city administration turned a blind eye to the patrols’ illegal activities, which included physically assaulting young men and women. The city’s mayor, Meir Rubinstein, was questioned on suspicion of breach of trust, obstruction of justice and fraud, and then released. A number of unidentified additional suspects were also taken in for questioning and were later placed under house arrest. A remand hearing for the two prime suspects was set for Tuesday at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court.
Those suspects allegedly ran the town’s modesty patrol in public spaces like buses and streets. They face charges of assault, aggravated injury, abduction, threats, and kidnapping for imprisoning youth who were perceived as violating the city’s moral and religious code. Police say the squads regularly attacked young men and women whom they perceived as being immoral, referring to them as “dropout youth,” the undercover investigation revealed, according to the Israel Hayom daily.
Modesty squads are not a new phenomenon in Israel. Similar neighborhood vigilante groups, some which focus on separating men and women, were organized in Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem, and other ultra-Orthodox areas in recent years.
On Sunday, police arrested a man suspected of ordering a woman to the back of a bus, because of her gender, on Friday. The woman, 22-year-old Noa Kentman, was reportedly harassed by other passengers on the bus when she refused to move to the back. The incident took place while Kentman was traveling from Safed to Ashdod.