Anat Hoffman describes IRAC’s fight to remove “modesty” signs, like this one in Beit Shemesh. The sign says: Welcome to our neighborhood and to the Haredi Shopping Center. Female visitors, workers and shoppers in our neighborhood are asked to respect the feelings of its residents who believe in God and His Torah and to come dressed modestly: closed blouses with long sleeves; long skirts; no pants; and no short or exposed clothing.
In Hebrew, there’s a silly expression you say to someone you see unexpectedly three times in a row: “פעםשלישיתגלידה” – “third time, ice-cream.” The closest expression in English would be “third time’s a charm.”
I’m already planning my trip to the ice-cream parlor in Beit Shemesh.
For three years now, we have been fighting to remove so-called “modesty” signs like these in Beit Shemesh. Signs that tell women how they can and can’t dress and where they can and can’t walk on the street.
We’ve already won two rounds of the battle, and now, round three has just begun.
Round one: Two years ago, Israel’s Attorney General ruled that these signs violated Israeli law. Beit Shemesh defied the AG’s ruling, claiming that if the city removed the signs, it would offend Haredi men and lead to violence.
Round two: Four months ago, an Israeli court awarded damages to four Beit Shemesh women represented by IRAC for having to endure these “modesty” signs on the streets. The court ruled that the signs violated women’s civil rights, and fined the municipality of Beit Shemesh NIS 60,000 plus court costs for being “grossly negligent” and refusing to take these signs down. Beit Shemesh paid the fines, but left the signs intact.
We have no intention of backing down. Last week, we filed a new lawsuit against Beit Shemesh municipality and its mayor. This time, we’re not asking for monetary damages. Instead, we’re asking the Administrative Court in Jerusalem to order Beit Shemesh’s Mayor, Moshe Abutbul, to take the signs down once and for all. No more games. No more excuses.
As Orly Erez-Likhovski, the director of our legal team, told me this morning: “We’ve seen such amazing progress over the past several years on the issue of gender segregation. We are going to keep fighting until the mayor understands his obligation to uphold the law on behalf of all Beit Shemesh residents, including women.”
The wheels of justice sometimes move slowly, but they are moving. For the record, Mr. Mayor, my favorite ice-cream flavors are Grapefruit Campari and Coffee Heath Bar.