Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up 10 percent of Israel's population, but their behavior has grabbed the national and international spotlight. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to curb their harassment and discrimination after complaints.
In one incident, a crowd set upon journalists who were investigating a case of alleged abuse. Their car was stoned, equipment was stolen and a reporter was wounded.
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. She has been spat at on her way to school because the ultra-Orthodox said she was dressed immodestly. The mayor of the town estimates that up to 50 people have been involved in the abuse of the 8-year-old.
The ultra-Orthodox Jews demand gender segregation and expect women to sit in the back of public buses. Activists have been challenging this practice, sitting where they please. Rabbi Yaakov Halperin, head of an ultra-Orthodox group in Jerusalem, defends the practice, saying that to demand that women sit in the back of the bus is not discriminatory. "A Kosher woman is first of all dressed by her modesty," he told the Euro News Agency. "Sitting in the rear of a bus, there's no shame, no humiliation. It doesn't mean she is less worthy. She's simply being modest. This is the behavior of a real Jewish woman."
Last week, demonstrators gathered to protest the ultra-Orthodox Jews' discriminatory attitudes and practices. While a minority in Israel, the influence of the ultra-Orthodox Jews has been growing.