Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to curb harassment and discrimination after complaints over the behaviour of ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Police intervened after a television crew was set upon by one group as the journalists investigated a case of alleged abuse. Their car was stoned, a reporter wounded and equipment stolen.
The town of Beit Shemesh near Jerusalem is under the spotlight, after an eight-year-old girl complained of being threatened by ultra-Orthodox men over her dress.
Naama Margolese, whose mother is an American immigrant, says she has been insulted and spat at on the way to school.
Graffiti on a wall reads: “Israeli women, the Torah demands that you dress modestly.” Advertisements featuring women are often vandalised.
The controversy extends to gender segregation. Activists have been challenging cases of separate seating on public transport, openly defying a tradition that sees women sit in the back of the bus.
The head of the ultra-Orthodox Yehadut Ha Torah faction in Jerusalem defended the practice.
“A ‘Kosher’ woman is first of all judged by her modesty. And if she is sitting in the rear of a bus, there’s no shame, no humiliation, it doesn’t mean she’s less worthy. She is simply being modest. And this is the behaviour of a real Jewish woman,” said Rabbi Yaakov Halperin.
Last week saw a demonstration against gender segregation and calling for more visibility for women in Israel.
The ultra-Orthodox make up about 10 percent of the population, but their influence has been growing.
The mayor of Beit Shemesh is from Shas, a party run by rabbis and one of the biggest partners in the coalition government. He has estimated that up to 50 people have been involved in the abuse of the eight-year-old girl.