The latest battleground in Israel’s struggle over religious extremism covers little more than a square mile of this Jewish city situated between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and it has the unexpected public face of a blond, bespectacled second-grade girl.

She is Naama Margolese, 8, the daughter of American immigrants who are observant modern Orthodox Jews. An Israeli weekend television program told the story of how Naama had become terrified of walking to her elementary school here after ultra-Orthodox men spit on her, insulted her and called her a prostitute because her modest dress did not adhere exactly to their more rigorous dress code.

The country was outraged. Naama’s picture has appeared on the front pages of all the major Israeli newspapers. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Sunday that “Israel is a democratic, Western, liberal state” and pledged that “the public sphere in Israel will be open and safe for all,” there have been days of confrontation at focal points of friction here.

Ultra-Orthodox men and boys from the most stringent sects have hurled rocks and eggs at the police and journalists, shouting “Nazis” at the security forces and assailing female reporters with epithets like “shikse,” a derogatory Yiddish term for a non-Jewish woman or girl, and “whore.” Jews of varying degrees of orthodoxy and secularity headed to Beit Shemesh on Tuesday evening to join local residents in a protest numbering in the thousands against religious violence and fanaticism.

When a man stands in public and spits on a little girl and calls her a “whore,” he has not only lost the argument, he has lost his soul.

Whether in Beit Shemesh, in Hamas-run Gaza, or in Afghanistan, why is it that you can almost always find out who the scum of the earth are by the way they treat women?

UPDATE: Similarly, I’ve found over the years that you can usually spot the scummy people by what they think of Jews. I’m not talking about what they think of the Israeli government, or the acts of individual Jews. I’m talking about how they view the Jews as a people. When I read or hear someone expressing anti-Semitism, I know that they don’t just hate the Jews, but deep down, perhaps unawares, hate all the finer things of the human spirit.