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As ultra-Orthodox flex muscle, Israel feminists see a backsliding

When public buses rumble to a stop in some of Jerusalem's religious neighborhoods, women often dutifully enter by the rear door and sit in the back, leaving the front for men.

There's no law requiring the women to do so, but those who don't risk verbal taunts and intimidation.

It's a curious sight given Israel's history as an international trailblazer for women's rights.

The country produced one of the democratic world's first female heads of government with Golda Meir's election in 1969. Women lead Israel's Supreme Court and two of the nation's main political parties. Israel drafts women into military service and has some of the world's toughest laws against sexual harassment and rape.

Yet Israeli women say that recently some of their most basic rights have come under attack, including singing and dancing in public, vying for student government positions at a religious college, appearing on billboards in Jerusalem, speaking on a religious radio station and even using the sidewalk during religious celebrations.

Feminists who once thought Israel's battle for gender equality had been mostly won are warning of a new assault from Israel's fast-growing ultra-Orthodox community, which is seeking to expand religious-based segregation into the public realm.

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