Egged and the company in charge of bus advertisements have decided that rather than be forced to put up ads with women in Jerusalem due to court action claiming discrimination against the gender, they will remove all people – both men and women – from the bus advertisements.

Starting August 1, Cnaan Advertising quietly removed all persons from their bus advertisements in the capital. The policy was clearly laid out in a letter from Egged to Cnaan obtained by The Jerusalem Post: “In the Jerusalem area there will be no images of people at all, though in other parts of the country it will be possible to use such images,” the letter from July 31 stated.

Cnaan, the company responsible for the bus ads, claims that haredi extremists have defaced buses with paint and stones and even set an empty bus on fire because of ads featuring images of women they deemed “immodest.” Cnaan refused to run any advertisements with women, claiming that it will cause the company financial damage, and activists accused the company of discrimination against women. After the Transportation Ministry said it would refuse to work with any companies that discriminate based on gender on July 11, legal advisers from Egged and Cnaan decided the best course of action would be to remove any people from bus advertisements.

“The fact that they are taking down pictures in a democratic state is very problematic,” said Rabbi Uri Ayalon, CEO of the Jerusalemites Movement, a political group whose aim is to promote pluralism and equal rights in Jerusalem. “This is very destructive to freedom of expression.”

“They spell it out, that’s the worst part, that it is OK for them to say something like this,” he added. “Our struggle is not about bus advertising, it’s about the character of Israel.”

Egged spokesman Ron Ratner said that advertisements will have “text and visuals but no photos of men or women.”

“We think the central thing that we need to worry about is the quality of the bus and the safety of the passengers, the advertising is just something on the sidelines,” he said.

Ratner said the policy will be enforced until the end of Egged’s contract with Cnaan in October 2013.

The saga started in November 2011, when the Jerusalemites Movement tried to launch an advertising campaign titled “Women of Jerusalem, Nice to Meet You.” The group purchased advertising space on Egged buses and photographed women of various ages and backgrounds wearing modest clothes, with the goal of “reclaiming the public sphere,” the movement’s community organizer Marik Shtern said earlier this year.

But Cnaan refused to run the advertising campaign. The Jerusalemites Movement turned to the courts, and filed a petition to require the Transportation Ministry to withhold licenses from any companies that engage in gender discrimination. Before the court submitted their ruling, the ministry accepted all of the movement’s requests in July, negating the need for a court decision, and assumed responsibility for enforcing the regulations.

Aviad Hacohen, the lawyer for the Jerusalemites Movement who filed the petition, said on Tuesday that the organization will wait to see whether the Transportation Ministry plans to intervene. They will also request that the court reexamine the issue.

Ayalon said that prior to the decision to remove all men and women from advertisements, Cnaan had requested the group make a number of changes to their advertising campaign. At first, Cnaan asked that the women in the campaign wear T-shirts and not tank tops. Ayalon said he grudgingly agreed, because he believed the goal of the campaign was more important than fighting over the tops. But then Cnaan asked them to have women wearing only long sleeves past their elbows, he refused.

“We didn’t agree to that, we’re not going to agree to lengthen the sleeves even a millimeter more,” he said. He added that the requests were most likely stalling tactics while the legal advisers made the final decision to remove all people from the ads.

Cnaan refused multiple requests for comment.

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