“We have a mayor who is wasting taxpayers’ hard earned money, by forcing us to take this on to protect our rights. He knows the law - he knows that he has to take the signs down and that he has no choice. What he is doing shows absolute contempt for the city's residents, our money and Israeli law.”
Women Sue Beit Shemesh Over Haredi Modesty Signs
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Five women in the divided Israeli city of Beit Shemesh filed a petition with a Jerusalem civil court yesterday, Allison Kaplan Sommer reported in Ha’aretz.
The women – all of whom are Orthodox and all but one of whom joined together previously to successfully sue the city for the threats and violence they suffered over their refusal to obey haredi-ordered gender segregation in public spaces in the city – are asking the court to order the haredi mayor of Beit Shemesh, Rabbi Moshe Abutbol of the Sefardi haredi Shas Party, to take down haredi “modesty signs” posted in various public locations in the city.
One of the signs reads, “Dire Warning: It is forbidden to walk on our streets in immodest dress, including slutty clothing worn in a religious style.”
In its January ruling, the Jerusalem court which found for the women lashed out at the city. It noted that not only are the haredi modesty signs illegal, they create a dangerous atmosphere for women. But the court also noted that only an administrative court had the power to force the city to remove the haredi modesty signs – even though the signs are clearly illegal.
Even after January’s court ruling, Abutbol has consistently refused to have city workers remove the signs – even when they are posted directly on public property like street sign posts.
The women noted that while one might think a strongly worded court ruling like that would have caused Abutbol to remove the signs. But he didn’t, so the women were forced to file suit yet again.
“While one would assume that after such a strong message from the court forcing them to pay compensation to women who were damages by the signs, that the city would finally take action and remove the humiliating signs, we have seen that it has continued to ignore the way in which they violate women’s rights - and so we have been forced to turn to the courts once again in order to force the municipality to obey the law,” Orly Erez-Likhovski, the head of the legal department at the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement and the women’s lawyer, reportedly said.
The petition reportedly argues that the city is “shirking its responsibility to enforce the law” and is ignoring women’s rights that are supposed to be guaranteed under law.
The city claims it is afraid taking down the illegal haredi modesty signs will cause violent reactions and even mass riots by haredim.
A similar excuse was used by Israeli police to bar Women of the Wall (WoW) from praying in the women’s section of the Kotel (Western Wall) as they see fit, even though the law protected WoW. A Jerusalem District Court Judge ruled in 2014 that the police were mandated under law to arrest the haredi rioters, and that police could not use the excuse of potential haredi violence to curtail WoW’s legal rights. Since then, police have several times protected WoW. But most often, it has continued to appease haredim and the Kotel’s haredi rabbi rather than do so.
Nili Phillipp, the best known of the women suing Beit Shemesh, was disgusted by the city’s refusal to follow the law.
“We have a mayor who is wasting taxpayers’ hard earned money, by forcing us to take this on to protect our rights. He knows the law - he knows that he has to take the signs down and that he has no choice. What he is doing shows absolute contempt for the city's residents, our money and Israeli law,” Phillipp said. She also said the city’s haredi mayor, Moshe Abutbol, “spits in our face.”
The City of Beit Shemesh reportedly refused to comment when contacted by Ha’aretz.
Similar issues exist in other cities in Israel, including (but by no means limited to) Jerusalem and the haredi city of Bnei Brak.
In February, Jerusalem City Council member Laura Wharton complained to the city and its secular right-of-center mayor, Nir Barkat, about local haredi modesty signs. If the signs weren’t removed, she told them, she might also sue.
Attorney Erez-Likhovski told Ha’aretz she also complained in writing to Barkat and to the haredi City of Bnai Brak, as well, but neither have responded to her complaints about the haredi modesty signs. She said Jerusalem removes new modesty signs when they are posted and complaints about the signs are taken and registered – but existing signs in haredi neighborhoods like Mea Shearim have not been removed, despite complaints and the law.