Anger over children dressed as Holocaust victims
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish demonstrators have caused outrage by dressing children as Holocaust victims to protest against what they saw is the persecution of devout Jews seeking gender separation in Israel.
A boy wearing a cloth cap and the sidecurls of an Orthodox Jew was the centrepiece of the Jerusalem protest late on Saturday.
His hands were raised in surrender and a yellow Star of David inscribed with "Jude" - German for "Jew" - was sewn on his jacket.
The image mimicked a memorable photo of a terrified Jewish boy during a roundup in the Nazi-occupied Warsaw ghetto in World War II.
"Nazis, Nazis," some of the protesters shouted at police.
Other children and young men were dressed in replicas of striped concentration camp uniforms, alongside hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in their traditional black garb.
The protesters earned a sharp rebuke from Israel's government.
"Prisoner uniforms and yellow patches with the word Jew written on them in German are shocking and appalling," defence minister Ehud Barak said in a statement.
"The use of yellow patches and small children raising their hands in surrender crosses a red line which the ultra-Orthodox leadership, who are largely responsible people, must not accept," he said.
German troops force Warsaw ghetto dwellers to keep moving in 1943
Israel is in the grip of an emotional debate over attempts by Jewish zealots to impose and enforce gender separation in ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods and other public places.
Much of the controversy has stemmed from ultra-Orthodox men trying to force women to sit in the back of public buses in deference to religious beliefs against any mixing of the sexes in public.
President Shimon Peres has described the debate as a battle for the soul of the Jewish state.
The issue jumped to the top of the public agenda in Israel nearly two weeks ago when an eight-year-old girl complained on television that ultra-Orthodox men spat at her on the way to school, accusing her of dressing immodestly.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has political alliances with ultra-Orthodox parties but is facing mounting public anger over such incidents, has vowed to crack down on zealots who harass women.
Some groups within the ultra-Orthodox community do not recognise Israel, saying such a state can only be established with the coming of the Messiah.
"You will not be able to impose on us sinful (Western) culture. We will remain faithful to the laws of Holy Torah," read one protest sign at Saturday's demonstration.
Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem, Israel's national memorial to the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis, said the protesters' use of Holocaust imagery was a "profound insult" to survivors.
"This is totally unacceptable and degrades Jewish values," Mr Shalev said on Israel Radio.