Around 1,000 pro-democracy activists gathered in Israeli city of Beit Shemesh to rally against ultra-Orthodox Jewish zealots attempting to radicalise religious elements in the country and excluding women from public life.

The case of an eight-year-old girl, who was spat on and insulted by ultra-Orthodox men while going to school for being dressed immodestly, raised anger and criticism across the Israeli society.

Religious and secular protesters from Beit Shemesh, about 18 miles from Jerusalem, took the street along with children with parents and even the Israeli Hells Angels.

Chanting "The nation demands a Zionist Beit Shemesh", demonstrators held banners reading, "Beit Shemesh is under a Haredi occupation," and "Haredim! Don't spit in the well you drink from."

Israeli police and ultra-Orthodox protesters clashed on Monday in the town. A police officer was injured and several protesters taken into custody. According to reports, the religious protesters shouted "Nazis, Nazis" and threw eggs and rocks to police officers, who were deployed there to prevent zealots from attacking television news crews,

President Shimon Peres supported the rally, calling on all Israelis to protest against religious extremism. "We are fighting for the soul of the nation and the essence of the state," he said in remarks reported by Reuters. "Today is a test in which the entire nation will have to mobilise to rescue the majority from the claws of a small minority that is chipping away at our most hallowed values."

Meanwhile Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was criticized by both opposition and coalition members following rumours that he is considering ending the tensions between ultra-Orthodox and religious residents in Beit Shemesh by dividing the city in half.

Trouble in the Holy Land: Is Israel's Diverse Society Fragmenting?

During Tuesday night's protests, Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni warned against "an underline change that's brewing here by some who don't' think women are their equals."

"There are amazing people that want to live here. Some are religious and some aren't. They asked me - 'Don't give up on us.' We have no intention of giving up on you or on the State of Israel," Livni said.

Gender segregation is a growing issue in Israel. Religious neighbourhoods in Jerusalem already have bus lines segregated for women, who are forced to sit in the back of vehicles. Some rabbis in Jerusalem have demanded that business avoid posting photographs of women or employing them in any of the shops patronised by the ultra-Orthodox.

Though numbering only 10 per cent of Israel's mostly Jewish population of 7.7 million, ultra-Orthodox voting patterns give them considerable clout, helping them secure welfare benefits and wider influence.