Haredi man arrested for vandalizing women’s faces on Jerusalem billboards

Suspect found carrying cans of spray paint; local activists decry ongoing effort to remove women from public spaces in the capital

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks past a billboard that was vandalized, near the entrance to Jerusalem, November 2, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90/File)
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks past a billboard that was vandalized, near the entrance to Jerusalem, November 2, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90/File)

An ultra-Orthodox man was arrested overnight Tuesday on suspicion of vandalism for blacking out the faces of women on several billboards in Jerusalem.

The suspect, 26, was questioned at a police station on suspicion of defacing property and damaging property.

An investigation was opened two weeks ago following a number of incidents in which damage was caused to billboards that carried adverts with women’s faces, police said in a statement Wednesday.

Some ultra-Orthodox Jews object to photos of women in public places or media on grounds of modesty. For decades there have been repeated incidents of posters featuring women defaced in the capital and other cities.

In some incidents damage was done with spray paint and in others by vandalizing the signs, police said.

“Following that, the police organized and carried out undercover activities that led last night to the arrest of a suspect in the south of the city who had in his possession paint spray cans.”

View of a billboard that was vandalized near the entrance to Jerusalem, November 2, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The Hebrew-media Ynet website reported that two municipal parties, Hitorerut (Awakening Jerusalem) and Yerushalmim, had asked police to find the perpetrator.

According to the report the Hitorerut party reacted to the assault on women’s faces by covering the defaced posters with pictures of famous women such as former prime minister Golda Meir and Rosa Parks, the iconic US civil rights activist.

“We will not allow such phenomena to spring up in Jerusalem,” Hitorerut said in a statement. “We will not allow extremists to take control of the public space. The vandals can’t stopit, women will continue to be in every place, to advance and succeed, in politics and media, in business and every place they want.”

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, head of the Yerushalmim party, said the vandalism goes beyond a religious message.

“This isn’t a matter of religion, and it is not connected to modesty,” Hassan-Nahoum said. “The defacing is all about a desire to remove women from the public space and drag Jerusalem into dark places.”

The battle of women’s rights against ultra-Orthodox demands for modesty has also extended into public transportation, where attempts have been made to force segregation on some bus routes mostly used by the ultra-Orthodox community.

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