Attempts by ultraconservative Jews to impose their religious views on others in the town of Beit Shemesh have given rise to protests and a national debate about the character of what is, nobody denies, a religious state.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni and President Shimon Peres joined with moderate protesters trying to “save the majority” from the extreme views of ultra-Orthodox Jews who make up about 10 percent of the country’s population.

Below, the BBC explains the origins of the anti-ultraconservative reaction. — PZS


Protesters, some holding signs reading “Free Israel from religious coercion” and “Stop Israel from becoming Iran”, gathered on Tuesday evening.

Anger spilled over after an eight-year-old American girl, Naama Margolese, said she was afraid to walk to school in the town because ultra-Orthodox men shouted at her.

“When I walk to school in the morning, I used to get a tummy ache because I was so scared… that they were going to stand and start yelling and spitting,” she said in a subsequent interview with The Associated Press on Monday.

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