Back-of-the-bus seating for women on public transport in Israel will be outlawed soon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said on Thursday, pledging sweeping legislation to stop Jewish religious zealots trying to enforce gender segregation in many spheres of life.
The issue is at the heart of a long and emotional struggle between Israel's secular majority and an ultra-Orthodox Jewish minority over lifestyle in the Jewish state.
"Today, I instructed the Justice Ministry to draft legislation ... that will make any segregation of women and their humiliation in a public space a criminal offense," Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said on her Facebook page.
She made the announcement a day after Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein recommended outlawing any behavior that stops women from receiving "public services with equal conditions."
In addition, he wrote that harassment by way of degradation or humiliation of a person due to his race, religion, religious group, nationality, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, point of view, political party, personal status or parenthood, in order to prevent him or her from accessing public services or exercising rights should be a crime.
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee for the Advancement of Women, said she welcomes the recommendations, even though they came much later than they should have.
“I believe that implementing and enforcing the recommendations will help stop the outbreak of discrimination against women in public spaces,” she stated. “We cannot abandon women’s rights in Israel and cannot accept harming their equal status.”
According to Weinstein’s recommendations, the Religious Services Ministry must make sure no cemeteries separate men and women or prevent women from giving eulogies.
In addition, men and women may not be separated in ceremonies or events sponsored by the government or any of its ministries, in health clinics or on public transportation.
The Transportation Ministry must increase supervision of bus companies to make sure there is no direct or indirect gender separation.
Travelers will not be allowed to enter buses from the back door and will have to pay the driver directly.
Signs indicating separate sidewalks for men and women or calling for modest dress must be removed by local authorities, especially when posted in a public place.
The haredi “Kol Barama” radio station will have to stop its policy of not employing female broadcasters within six months.
Kol Barama said in response that women are broadcast every day on the station, meaning the women who call in to speak on its various shows. A representative for the station acknowledged, however, that Kol Barama does not have any female broadcasters.
The Hiddush religious-freedom lobbying group welcomed Livni’s instructions and Weinstein’s recommendations, calling them “good news for Israeli society and for Judaism, which is being distorted and trampled on by the zealots of discrimination.”
The 71-page document was distributed to the relevant ministers: Livnat, Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett, Health Minister Yael German and Transportation Minister Israel Katz.
MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) pointed out that he proposed a bill to criminalize discrimination against women that was rejected by the government.
“I welcome this decision establishing what I have been demanding for several years,” Herzog said. “I expect my bill making the exclusion of women a crime to be brought to the Knesset for a vote as soon as possible and receive the support of the government.
This is the true test of the status of women in Israel and the battle for Israel’s image.”
The Hiddush religious-freedom lobbying group welcomed the announcement, calling it “good news for Israeli society and for Judaism which is being distorted and trampled on by the zealots of discrimination.”
Kol Barama Radio Station said in response that women are broadcast everyday on the Kol Barama radio station, in reference to women who call in to speak on Kol Barama’s various shows. A representative for the station acknowledged however that Kol Barama does not have any female broadcasters.