Katz ordered to explain gender-separation decision

Transport minister asked why he rejected the recommendations of a c'tee of experts to examine issue of separate seating in public buses.

February 18, 2010 23:24
3 minute read.
A Jerusalem bus. [illustrative]

jerusalem bus comic 311. (photo credit: Rinat Gilboa)

The High Court of Justice on Thursday instructed Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) to explain why he did not accept the recommendations of a committee of experts to examine the issue of separate seating for men and women in public buses.

His predecessor, Shaul Mofaz (Kadima), appointed the panel when he was minister.

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Thursday’s decision was handed down by Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Salim Joubran and Yoram Danziger on a petition filed in 2007 by five Orthodox women and the Israel Religious Action Center of the Progressive (Reform) Movement.

“The committee’s position was based on a broad foundation and was reasoned and detailed,” wrote Rubinstein, the head of the panel. “The minister’s position, I fear, is not sufficiently reasoned either legally or factually.”

The committee recommended that, unlike today, where the gender-separated buses have signs saying “mehadrin,” indicating that haredi leaders expect male and female passengers to sit separately, there should be no signs inside or outside the bus to indicate that fact. The seating must be totally voluntary and the public companies may not intervene to indicate otherwise, the committee wrote.

Although the petition, which was filed in early 2007, was suspended for almost two years while the committee, established on the court’s recommendation and appointed by then-minister of transportation Mofaz, studied the matter, Katz rejected its recommendation.

On January 28, he wrote, “The minister believes that the bus companies should be allowed to post signs that provide guidance on how to sit that will include an explanation and a request for the separation of the genders, while at the same time making clear that this is not mandatory.”

Katz recommended that the mehadrin buses continue to operate more or less as they have until now, but added that their operation should be supervised to prevent violence of any kind against female passengers who want to sit in the “men’s section.”

In its show-cause order, the court instructed Katz to explain why he did not want to operate the buses according to the committee’s recommendations.

At the same time, the court issued an interim injunction according to which, until and unless another decision is reached, the mehadrin buses will operate in accordance with the committee’s recommendations.

This means that the buses will not longer indicate in any way that haredi leaders expect men and women to sit separately. On the other hand, passengers will understand this because the buses will continue to run along the same routes and bear the same numbers.

These buses, unlike regular buses, will open both the front and back doors but there will be no indication that women must enter from the back and men from the front.

Bus drivers will not be allowed to intervene in seating arrangement to inform passengers that the bus is gender-separated.

The Ministry of Transportation will establish a system of supervision and enforcement to make certain that passengers riding on the bus do not use force to impose gender separation.

If it should prove to be unfeasible to collect bus fares from passengers boarding these buses from the back doors, or if passengers use force to impose gender separation, the bus operators may cancel the arrangement at any time and demand that all passengers – men and women – board the bus from the front.

Since 1999, the public bus companies have operated a growing number of gender-segregated buses. Today, there are 30 such lines, 23 of them inter-city and seven municipal.

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