Bus riders this week found themselves under attack by dozens of ultra-Orthodox Jews who hurled stones and slashed the tires of their buses. The reason? Some buses featured ads supporting the right of women to worship at a holy site in Jerusalem. This is only the latest such attack by ultra-Orthodox Jews who have manned “modesty patrols” on the streets and attacked women who call for equal access at sites like the Western Wall.
About 50 men were involved in the vigilante attacks after a group called Women of the Wall or WOW sought equal rights in praying at the wall. They particularly want Bat Mitzvah ceremonies for girls allowed at the Wall as opposed to a neared prayer site. The advertisements showed girls and women wearing prayer shawls and holding a Torah scroll, which the men denounced as act reserved by God for only men. Buses were sprayed painted with such demands as “end the obscene pictures.”
Ultra-orthodox Jews have also been destroying posters, billboards, and harassing secular Jews. I have previously criticized the government for fueling this sense of immunity by running special buses for Orthodox neighborhoods and arresting women wearing shawls at the Wall. It is scourge of Israel’s rejection of separation of Temple and State.
However, last year, a court ruled that women should be permitted to pray as they choose. Yet, the women say that they are still being prevented from worshipping with a Torah scroll at the Wall. The government is clearly not fully supporting these women and it is also not vigorously investigating and arresting these Ultra-Orthodox extremists. In various local stories, there is notably not a single story noting that anyone has been arrested.
The problem is not just the absence of separation of Temple and State. It is also the anachronistic and highly unstable constitutional system in Israel which allows tiny religious parties to effectively control governments. Israeli society is highly secular but the system gives these parties inflated political power — and a sense of absolute immunity.