CAIRO - A heated controversy is brewing in Israel over calls by Ultra-Orthodox Jews, a backbone of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, to segregate between men and women.
"The entire nation must be recruited in order to save the majority from the hands of a small minority," Israeli President Shimon Peres told reporters on Tuesday, December 27, Haaretz reported.
"This obligation is everyone's responsibility."
Thousands of Israelis are expected to show up at a planned protest on Tuesday in Beit Shemesh, a city south-west of Jerusalem, against calls by Ultra-Orthodox Jews for men and women to be segregated.
The protest comes a day after clashes between police and Ultra-Orthodox Jews over attempts to remove banners calling for sex segregation.
Ultra-Orthodox men also clashed with police officers on Sunday and attacked two television news crews.
At least six people were arrested or detained for questioning.
"Today is a test for the nation, not just for the police, Peres said.
All of us, religious, secular, traditional ... must as one man defend the character of the state of Israel against a minority which breaks our national solidarity."
The new uproar follows widespread outrage at zealot settlers in the occupied West Bank who have vandalized Palestinian property and turned on Israel's conscript military by rioting at one of its garrisons.
Children were not even spared from harassment by zealous Jews.
"I'm afraid I might get hurt or something," 8-year-old Naama Margolese told Channel Two television.
The young child said she was terrified of walking to her moderate Orthodox school because of passersby who want her "to dress like a Haredi" - the Hebrew term for the ascetic, black-coated Jews who are in "awe" of God, Reuters reported.
Margolese's mother Hadassa, an American immigrant who wore a headscarf and skirt in deference to religious Jewish tradition, said the sidewalk abuse could include spitting, curses like "whores" and "bastards" and calls to "clear out of here."
"If that's what happens now, and they (authorities) don't do anything, what will happen in another few years?" she told Israel's Army Radio.
"This is a terrorist group."
The ultra-Orthodox make up only about 10 percent of Israel's population of 7.7 million.
But their high birthrates and bloc voting patterns have helped them secure welfare benefits and wider influence.One of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's biggest partners in the coalition government, Shas, is a party run by rabbis.