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Plan for Israel gender segregation row protest

DEMONSTRATIONS are planned in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, against the way some ultra-Orthodox Jews treat women, BBC reports.

There have been clashes in the town between members of the conservative Jewish community and police.

Some ultra-Orthodox men have been demanding strict gender segregation and “modest” dress for women.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to end attempts to enforce segregation of the sexes.

He has said that harassment and discrimination have no place in a liberal democracy.

‘Deliberate provocation’

The rally is expected to be attended by some ultra-Orthodox Jews seeking to distance themselves from those they call “extremists”.

On Monday, one police officer was slightly hurt and a number of Orthodox Jews were detained after a group of some 300 ultra-Orthodox residents pelted police with stones and eggs.

The incident was reportedly triggered after police tried to remove a sign ordering segregation.

A television crew attempting to film in the town were surrounded and harassed – the second alleged attack on journalists in as many days.

On Sunday, a crew from Channel 2 news were attacked as they were filming, say reports, with rocks allegedly thrown at their van.

The alleged assault came days after Channel 2 aired a story about an eight-year-old American girl, Naama Margolese, who said she was afraid to walk to school because ultra-Orthodox men shouted at her.

After Monday’s clashes, unnamed ultra-Orthodox activists from Beit Shemesh issued a statement condemning the violence, but also accusing the media of initiating “deliberate provocations in order to make the peaceful, quiet and tolerant residents, who live their lives according to their beliefs, look bad”.

Such clashes have become more frequent in Israel in recent years as the authorities have challenged efforts by ultra-Orthodox Jews to segregate women in public places.

The BBC’s Jon Donnison, in Jerusalem, says the events have highlighted what is a growing religious divide in Israel.

Other recent points of contention include demands for separate seating areas for women on buses and a recent case of some soldiers who refused to remain at a performance by female singers.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up 10% of the population in Israel. The community has a high birth rate and is growing rapidly.

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