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Dec 27, 2011
American girl, 8, is target of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel

Attacks by ultra-Orthodox Jews who have spit on and yelled at an 8-year-old American girl walking to school in their Israeli neighborhood has prompted a call by Israeli President Shimon Peres to join a protest today against Jewish religious extremists.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in the city of Beit Shemesh, to the west of Jerusalem, consider a new girls school there an encroachment on their territory. Dozens of men in black hats jeer and physically accost the girls almost daily, the students say, according to the Associated Press.

Naama Margolese, 8, whose family is from Chicago, says she is afraid of walking to her religious Jewish girls school for fear of extremists who have spat on her and called her a ***** for dressing "immodestly." She tells the AP: "They were scary. They don't want us to go to the school."

TV images of Naama sobbing from her ordeal has shocked many Israelis, stocking Peres' call for the public to attend today's protest against women's exclusion in the city, reports.

"Today the people and not just police officers are being tested," Peres said. "Everyone – the religious, the secular, the traditionalists – must defend the nature of the state of Israel in the face of a small group which compromises national solidarity."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to end attempts to enforce segregation of the sexes, the BBC reports.

"The Israel police are taking, and will take, action to arrest and stop those who spit, harass or raise a hand. This has no place in a free and democratic state," he told his Cabinet, according to the AP.

Ultra-Orthodox makes up about 10% of the Israeli population, but have a high birth rate, the BBC notes.

Update at 12:39 p.m. ET: The AP reports that thousands of people showed up at today's demonstration.
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