Gender separation in public areas is a growing and dangerous phenomenon in Israel, the Movement for Progressive Judaism warned Tuesday, as they issued its fourth report on gender separation during a Knesset meeting.

Only opposition MKs from Kadima and Meretz attended the meeting, which was hosted by the Knesset Caucus for Civil Equality and Pluralism, founded during the current Knesset by MKs Shlomo Molla (Kadima) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz).

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“Segregation is a disease that is spreading in Israel, the significance of which is the degradation of women and coercion in the grossest possible manner,” said Horowitz at the opening of the meeting.

Former education minister Shulamit Aloni added that she thought that the “evil impulses of the haredim took control of them, and they panicked,” creating increasing restrictions on the presence of women and girls in the public sphere.

She emphasized that in the first government, four religious parties signed on to the basic guidelines of government, which ensured that “complete equality will be ensured for citizens…there will be full and complete equality for women, in political, economic and social life.” Any violation of these guidelines, Aloni said, was illegal.

“Egged and the health care providers have no right to collaborate with the religious extremists in harming women,” Aloni added. “I would try them all and deny business licenses for any public or private organization that is not located in the heart of haredi society.”

“We came here today because it is important to raise public awareness,” said Noa Sattath, interim associate director of the Israel Religious Action Center.

Sattath said that although there is legislation guaranteeing equality for both genders, “it is possible that with time, we will need to look for additional legislation on these issues, especially regarding public transportation.”

Sattath noted that the center’s objection centered on companies and services that receive government funding.

“Most of the Orthodox and secular public doesn’t even understand the widespread nature of the phenomenon,” she added.

The report that was published reflected 10 years of information-gathering by the Center for Progressive Judaism, with its writers arguing that the phenomenon of women being physically separated from men in public areas has been steadily growing.

The research demonstrated, said Sattath, that the goal was not simply separation, but a gradual removal of women from the public space.

Sattath offered as example the fact that researchers had repeatedly examined what happened when a man tried to sit in the women’s section of public, segregated buses, and discovered that men can sit in the women’s areas with impunity while women cannot do the opposite.

Complaints detailed in the report included one by Rivka Lubitz, who complained that women had been separated from men by order of the cemetery director at a funeral she attended.

Zehava Fischer complained of separation at a publiclyfunded community center, and Chana Pasternak described the well-documented phenomenon of women forced to sit in the back of public buses.

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