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Israeli town banned from displaying ‘modesty signs’ for women

Court orders Beit Shemesh council to take down signs requesting modest dress in strictly Orthodox neighbourhoods

    Lisa Mathon/Wikimedia Commons

    Signs demanding women dress modestly must come down, Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled.

    It ordered the Beit Shemesh municipality to remove the signs, which the justices said exclude women from the public sphere, by December 18.

    “There will be no exclusion of women in any city in Israel,” the court’s ruling said.

    It also said police will accompany city inspectors in the removal of signs and there will be a police presence in the area to ensure the signs are not replaced.

    “The explicit instruction to remove all signs sends a clear message that the rights of the women of Bet Shemesh will not be forfeited,” said Orly Erez Likhovski, head of the legal department at the Israel Religious Action Center and representative of the women of Bet Shemesh, who led the challenge against the signs.

    “We, who stand at forefront of the war against the exclusion of women in Israel, see this decision instructing the removal of all modesty signs as a major victory of the rule of law over the rule of violence, and towards the rights of women to dignity and equality.

    “We will continue to monitor and fight all occurrences of the exclusion of women in Israel.”

    Strictly Orthodox Jews hold a Hebrew placard reading
    Strictly Orthodox Jews hold a Hebrew placard reading "segregate women" during a 2011 protest in Beit Shemesh Getty Images

    The city, which is 30 kilometres west of Jerusalem and home to 110,000 people, will be fined 10,000 shekels (£2,115) for every day the signs remain posted.

    The municipality argued the notices demanding women adhere to Charedi Orthodox dress are just “ideological signs”.

    But Justice Hanan Meltzer responded by saying “Israel does not have streets that are closed to women”.

    Controversy over the signs has been running for several years.

    Beit Shemesh was first ordered to remove the signs in 2015, when the high court said the signs “cause serious harm to human dignity, equality, personal choice and autonomy.”

    But when they were not removed, the women who filed the original lawsuit turned to an administrative court to enforce the ruling.

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