Last night’s rally in Beit Shemesh over the Orot LeBanot School in the Sheinfeld neighborhood only attracted a few thousand people, amongst which were political figures who were asked to not attend.
The rally came in response to a story aired on Friday night about the Orot LeBanot students who suffer from daily harassment from Haredi extremists from the Toldot Aharon Hassidic Sect who want the girls to leave their neighborhood. The story that focused on an 8 year old named Na’ama received a strong reaction all over the country, especially amongst anti-religious groups. The story came in the wake of the recent incident on a Jerusalem-bound “Mehadrin” bus in which a non-religious woman refused to move to the bus as requested by a man in keeping with the local custom.
According to the organizers of the rally, all politicians were asked to not attend because they had no intention of instigating a political battle. However, Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul claimed otherwise, citing the refusal from Na’ama Margolese’s parents to speak with him regarding the situation in the Sheinfeld neighborhood as well as his not being invited to the protest. The rally was also to be held in the Orot LeBanot School but was moved to an area opposite the school because of threats of violence from the Toldot Aharon sect.
While Haaretz newpaper claim “tens of thousands” would attend, the number of attendees was actually closer to a few thousand and mostly made up of residents of Beit Shemesh, although some violent anti-religious groups from other locations were present as well. Several Haredi groups were present and were quoted as saying that “No respected Rabbi supports these actions”. The speakers at the rally included Rabbi Dov Lipman, an American Rabbi who has been fighting against Haredi extremism in Beit Shemesh that reared its ugly head in September with the opening of the Orot LeBanot School, as well as MK Tzipi Livni, who was asked to not attend but did so anyway.
Police were out in force in order to prevent any sort of violence from both the protestors and the local Haredi residents. No violence was reported as occurring although one Haredi passerby began yelling at the protestors and was led away by police for his own safety.