Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews clashed with police while protesting against a women’s prayer group that had attempted to worship at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, after Benjamin Netanyahu amplified calls to prevent the “desecration.”

The ‘Women of the Wall’ feminist group holds monthly prayers at the holy site, and more than 100 activists and supporters showed up on Friday to protest rules that forbid them from bringing Torah scripture scrolls into the prayer plaza.

The dispute has intensified since the swearing in of Israel’s new government in June, which saw ultra-Orthodox parties pushed into the opposition.

Police formed a physical barrier to separate some 2,000 Orthodox protesters from the female worshipers. Meanwhile, plaza security guards employed by the ultra-Orthodox-led Western Wall Heritage Foundation reportedly roughed up some of the women, pushing them to the ground.

“We cannot read from the Torah in the women’s section in 2021. Why not? Why the hell not?” Anat Hoffman, the group’s founder, told the Associated Press, adding that they were “fighting for equality and religious pluralism and justice.”

The group, which was mobbed and heckled by the protesters, reportedly accused the security guards of violence, but the foundation rejected the charge – instead alleging the group had provoked Orthodox protesters and that its security guards had “protected [them] with their bodies.”

Clashes had already broken out between protesters and police ahead of the women’s arrival, and metal barricades were erected in anticipation of violence. One person was reportedly arrested during the scuffles between activists and protesters, but a further escalation was averted.

בוקר טוב מהכותל. מאות מפגינים חרדים ניסו לפרוץ לעבר נשות הכותל ונבלמו ע”י המשטרה.

According to media reports, Israeli President Isaac Herzog had intervened to prevent a more serious confrontation by convincing reformist politician and rabbi Gilad Kariv not to attend the procession. Kariv had apparently been planning to hand over a Torah scroll to the women’s group.

In response to those reports, lawmaker Arye Dery, who chairs the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, had tweeted for his supporters to come out “so that, Heaven forbid, this holy place is not desecrated.” The tweet was shared by opposition leader Netanyahu to his two million Twitter followers.

אחרי שחברי הכנסת קריב וטל ביטלו את הגעתם לכותל לבקשת הנשיא – חיכוכים נרשמו בין מתפללים לשוטרים. נשות הכותל עדיין לא הגיעו לרחבה

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