Catrina Stewart
The Independent

January 10, 2012

The issue of creeping religious coercion over all aspects of Israelis’ lives has taken on huge importance in recent years as the ultraorthodox spread beyond their traditional communities in Jerusalem and outer Tel Aviv in search of cheap housing. But the situation recently reached a head in Beit Shemesh, a town near Jerusalem, when an ultraorthodox man spat at and verbally abused an eight-year-old girl, Naama Margolese, for what he considered was immodest attire.

Not for the first time, Israel’s Haredim find themselves under attack. Making up about 10 per cent of the population, this impoverished and fast-growing community has long been viewed as an economic drain on society, but now some fear that their influence is extending far beyond their ghetto-like communities.

In a potent display of their sense of persecution, an extreme Haredi sect living in Mea Shearim recently plastered yellow stars on their children in protest, a symbol of Jewish persecution from the Holocaust that resonates deeply with Israelis, and inspired widespread disgust.

Young men in Mea Shearim insist that those who inspire such hatred are an extremist minority who do not represent the Haredim as a whole. “I think modesty on the buses is okay,” says one, who works in a religious bookstore, “but to force that is not the way to behave.”

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