JERUSALEM - An Israeli woman who started a firestorm for refusing to sit behind men at the back of a public bus says she is now getting death threats.
Tanya Rosenbilt told a government committee on Wednesday that she is being threatened by phone and online and has filed a complaint with the police. Last month, Rosenblit boarded a bus in the southern city of Ashdod to go to Jerusalem for an appointment.
It was a bus normally used by ultra-Orthodox Jews - known as 'Haredi' in Israel - who voluntarily segregate themselves on public buses. After Rosenblit took her seat behind the driver, a Haredi man soon got on who refused to sit behind Rosenblit.
"He looked at me with despise," Rosenblit wrote on Facebook. "I heard him call me "Shikse," which means "whore" in Yiddish." The police were called to resolve the situation. An officer asked Rosenblit if she would respect Haredi customs and move back but Rosenblit refused.
Comparisons were immediately made with the American civil rights movement and Rosenblit was nicknamed the Rosa Parks of Israel. Senior Israeli officials from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on down have condemned the incident.
Committee member Minister Daniel Hershkowitz said Wednesday that "We cannot allow a situation whereby people ask women to sit at the back of the bus." The incident is one of several recently that have started a fierce debate over the secular vs. religious nature of the Jewish state.
President Shimon Peres has called it called a fight "for the soul of a nation and the essence of a state." Eight-year-old Naama Margolis was recently featured on Israel's most-watched news program because she was too afraid to walk to school her Orthodox neighborhood after Haredi men spit and cursed at her for dressing immodestly, in their view.
In Israel's conscript army, there is a furor over whether religious soldiers should have to attend events where women are singing. The group "Be Free Israel" organized a protest last weekend, with women riding at the front of buses through Orthodox neighborhoods. A spokesman for the group told ABC News the issue of women's equality is only heating up and that they plan increase their activities.
In another recent incident on a bus, a Haredi man reportedly sexually harassed a female soldier for not sitting at the back of a Jerusalem bus. "She stood amidst the ultra-Orthodox men. It's the most basic concept: A woman should not stand amidst men, just like no woman would go into a men's bathroom," Sholomo Fuchs told YNet on Monday. "So I called her a slut."