JERUSALEM (JTA) — A community in Maryland has suspended negotiations over a sister-city agreement with Beit Shemesh following violence in the Israeli city against women by haredi Orthodox residents.
Montgomery County, which is home to a large Jewish population, was at the end of the process to ink the sister-city arrangement with the Jerusalem suburb when disturbances by haredim outside a Modern Orthodox girls’ school and other assaults on women in the area were reported internationally.
Negotiations over a sister-city relationship began in 2007, according to the Washington Post.
Montgomery County inked its first sister-city relationship with Morazan, El Salvador, in July, and is now considering Gondar, Ethiopia, for its next sister city. The sister-city program encourages cooperation between municipalities through educational, cultural, social, economic, humanitarian and charitable exchanges.
The non-profit Montgomery Sister Cities board has proposed a public meeting on Beit Shemesh in late March, according to the Washington Post.
The negotiations were suspended after local activists met last month with County Executive Isiah Leggett over recent media reports about Beit Shemesh. Some activists had been warning Leggett about religious extremism in the city for years, according to the newspaper.
“I really support efforts to build bridges, but we have to be practical," County Council member George Leventhal, who is Jewish, told the Post. He added, "The deeper you get into issues like this, the greater risk you run of getting your own constituents really mad.”