More than 2,000 people and dozens of pluralistic and feminist groups signed a
petition in support of Jerusalem City Council member Rachel Azaria, who was
fired from the coalition by Mayor Nir Barkat last week.
Two weeks ago,
Azaria (Yerushalmim) petitioned to the High Court of Justice opposing gender
barriers in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She’arim during the
intermediate days of Succot, accusing the municipality and the police of not
doing enough to stop the gender separation.
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The Supreme Court agreed with
Azaria that gender separation is illegal, but the municipality claimed that a
member of the coalition cannot sue the city and fired her from the coalition.
Azaria was also stripped of her early childhood education and community council
Petitioners in support of Azaria blasted Barkat for firing
her from the coalition and lauded her efforts to halt gender separation in
public areas and on sidewalks.
“We will not tolerate an extremist group
dictating the way we will live in the capital of Israel,” the petition read,
which included groups such as Hiddush For Religious Freedom and Equality, the
Legal Center for Youth and Adolescents, the Masorti Movement, a branch of the
Van Leer Institute, Free Israel and Kolekh Forum for Religious Women, among
Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, who holds the urban planning and
environmental portfolios, said that the municipality supported Azaria’s struggle
to end gender separation but not the way she put it into action.
public domain is of utmost importance to all of us in municipality,” said
Tsur. “Everyone agrees – we have wall to wall agreement [on stopping
gender barriers] – and what Rachel is demanding is what we all want,” she said.
“But the core of the matter is that she is a member of the city’s directorship
and the coalition itself. She is the city, and at that point, she can’t sue
herself by law,” said Tsur.
Tsur said the gender separation in Mea
She’arim during Succot was carried out by the Toldot Aharon hassidim, a small
sect who do not respect the municipality’s demands.
“The situation was
much better this year, and police are convinced that if there is no provocation
and no interference, they can complete their work next year for no barriers,”
said Tsur. “Police believe they can do it without the court, because it’s
Jerusalem Police chief Cmdr. Nisso Shaham testified at
the hearing two weeks ago that the police have been working diligently and the
barriers separating genders were already much less than the previous
Azaria agreed to withdraw her petition after reaching an agreement
with the police that next year there would be no separation barriers and police
would appoint a community liaison to deal with complaints from within the
Azaria, who filed a similar petition last year over Succot
gender barriers, said that some members of the haredi community, especially
women, supported her petition. Members of Toldot Aharon have claimed the gender
barriers are necessary during Succot, when thousands of “immodestly dressed”
tourists pour into the conservative neighborhood to watch the traditional
Azaria said she did not know if Barkat would reinstate her
in the coalition or return her portfolios. The issue is set to be discussed at
the monthly city council meeting on Thursday.
“The ball is in his court,”
she said. “He needs to understand it’s a moral issue, not a technical
Azaria vowed to continue petitioning the High Court of Justice if
she felt that the gender barriers were not dealt with in a sufficient
“This is very important because extremism is imposing on the
mainstream and the petition is really important because it shows that we’re not
falling asleep on the watch.”