Police detained an ultra-Orthodox man and woman after they tried to compel a fellow female passenger to sit at the back of a bus in an effort to enforce religious segregation.
The incident began when the Haredi man asked the female rider to change her seat on a No. 497 bus operated by the Egged company in the town of Beit Shemesh. In the ensuing fracas other ultra-Orthodox passengers prevented the driver from continuing the journey until the woman agreed to move from the seat she chose at the front.
The police were alerted and detained the Haredi man and his wife, who assisted him.
In response to the incident, ultra-Orthodox protesters stoned three other Egged buses as they traveled down the same street, smashing windows but causing no injuries. Two more people were arrested.
The driver said it was not his first time being attacked by Haredi crowds and that similar incidents had occurred in Jerusalem as well.
MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), an Orthodox Beit Shemesh rabbi who has rallied against religious coercion in the city in the past, called on the mayor to install surviellance cameras to help catch stone throwers.
“Incidents of this nature of the exclusion of women are unacceptable occurrences and we need rid them from our society,” Lipman said. “Torah makes it clear that it is forbidden to degrade women and there is no place for this in Israeli society.”
Ultra-Orthodox activists have attempted to enforce segregation on buses in the past, with men at the front and women at the back but the practice is illegal under Israeli law.
In July 2012, Egged was ordered to compensate a young girl who was forced by ultra-Orthodox passengers to sit at the back of a bus in Beit Shemesh. The presiding judge ruled that gender separation on a public bus was illegal and it was the responsibility of the driver to prevent it.
Gender segregation on buses and other public places has been a contentious issue in Israel in recent years. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have traditionally forbidden the mixing of the sexes in their own communities to preserve modesty, but in the past decade some have made attempts to practice gender segregation in the public sphere as well. Buses, sidewalks, supermarkets, and advertisement billboards are among the recent targets of the ultra-Orthodox campaigns to enforce gender separation and modesty on the general public
In the past the Egged bus company has operated controversial segregated buses, known as “Mehadrin buses,” on certain intra-city routes that pass through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.