Hearing on haredi gender-separated buses continues

Court orders bus companies to leave segregation up to the passengers.

July 27, 2010 04:51
2 minute read.
egged bus

egged bus 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Israel Religious Action Center and five female petitioners called on the High Court of Justice on Monday to immediately endorse the recommendations of a committee established to examine the legality of the haredi gender-separated public buses.

On Tuesday, the court is due to hold another hearing on the petition, which was filed in 2007 and has been pending for more than three years. The petitioners, including author Naomi Ragen, have called on the court to wait no longer to abolish the current arrangement, whereby 23 intercity and seven urban bus routes run by the Egged and Dan bus companies operate gender-separated bus lines, allegedly imposed on women by force and lacking any fixed rules and regulations.

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The state, on the other hand, asked the court in its latest brief not to make any final decision on the petition until it completed a pilot program proposed by the committee, allowing for segregated seating on a purely voluntary basis on all 30 routes.

The committee, appointed by the transportation minister on February 20, 2008, following a recommendation by the High Court, concluded that there must be no hint of an arrangement on public buses imposing or encouraging separate seating for men and women. In the report, which was published in October 2009, the committee recommended that the bus companies promise “not to impose any practice of separation or discrimination against passengers and do everything possible to prevent incidents of force or violence.”

The committee also recommended that the 30 bus lines remove the signs they have displayed until now indicating that they are special buses in which men and women are encouraged to sit separately.

After the committee released its report, the court issued an interim injunction ordering the bus companies to operate the existing gender-separated bus lines according to the committee’s recommendations. It also ordered the Transportation Ministry to monitor the operation of the buses to see that passengers were not imposing the arrangement by force. Such monitoring had not been done since the first of these bus lines began to operate in 1998.

In addition, the court ordered the companies to instruct bus drivers not to impose the segregated arrangement, but to leave it up to the passengers to act according to their own free will. The drivers were to be told to intervene if passengers tried to use force to impose the arrangement.

In the state’s brief, prepared in advance of Tuesday’s hearing, it informed the court that it had completed stage one of the pilot and that it had begun stage two earlier in July.

It asked the court to allow it to complete the second stage and prepare a final report on its findings, which would then be brought before the transportation minister, who would determine the ministry’s final position on the petition.

Meanwhile, in the response to the court, the state presented some of the data from the firststage finding. It told the court, for example, that on 14 occasions, it had sent supervisors incognito to see what happened when they sat on the “wrong” side of the bus.

The state’s representative, attorney Ada Wiss, said that in no instance had there been any violence. On two occasions, passengers argued with the supervisor, in one case quietly and in the other more vociferously.

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