Haredi concert funded by Afula goes ahead with full gender separation

The decision came only three days after an earlier court decision ruled that the Haredi community could not hold the event because gender-segregation would violate discrimination and other laws.

A sign in front of an Afula park says the area is open to local residents only (photo credit: ADALAH WEBSITE)
A sign in front of an Afula park says the area is open to local residents only
(photo credit: ADALAH WEBSITE)
A concert in Afula for the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) community, which became the center of a massive legal, political and social battle, went ahead Wednesday night with full gender separation after the Nazareth District Court ruled that such separation was lawful.
Men and women were separated at the event by a tall fence covered in heavy white canvas, with the women’s section somewhat off to the side of the stage and significantly smaller than the men’s section.
In an appeal against an earlier ruling in favor of the Israel Women’s Network organization, which opposes gender separation at publicly funded events, the presiding judge in the Nazareth District Court suggested to the Afula municipality that a compromise be used whereby three sections – men, women and mixed – would be made at the concert.
The court ultimately permitted full gender separation without a mixed section, however, which is how the Afula municipal authority chose to organize the event.
The Israel Women’s Network filed an urgent appeal to the Supreme Court, which was scheduled to begin at 9:30 p.m., some one and a half hours after the concert started.
Shas leader and Interior Minister Arye Deri attended and spoke at the event, along with senior United Torah Judaism (UTJ) MK Moshe Gafni and other dignitaries. “The ones who tried to force their concepts on us have lost today,” Deri declared from the podium, following the ruling in favor of the appeal submitted by Shas.
“The New Israel Fund supports the Israel Women’s Network, who represent themselves [only] and they decided for the residents of Afula,” he continued, demanding: “Where is this paternalism from, where is this arrogance from?”
Democratic Union head Nitzan Horowitz denounced the ruling, however, saying that gender separation was “based on discrimination and the denigration of women,” and that his party would fight against the phenomenon.
Horowitz said that “any separation in the public domain does injury to basic rights,” and asserted that gender-separation was problematic when it is coercively enforced. “We need to fight this kind of discrimination, not authorize them,” he said.
The Nazareth district court’s decision came only three days after its earlier decision ruled that the haredi community could not hold a gender-segregated event at a public park because that would violate discrimination and other laws.
In a dizzying turnaround, the district court reversed itself after Shas filed an unusual petition for a rehearing and after Afula itself reversed its position on the issue.
Afula has now held three positions on the issue. First, it supported holding the gender-segregated event. Next, it opposed it, agreeing with the Sunday court ruling that gender segregation in the public sphere would be problematic.
But finally, on Wednesday, Afula informed the court that given deeper research, it was convinced by gender segregation in some public pools, public synagogues and other places that there was a place for holding such events for haredim, provided that the broader public was not greatly inconvenienced.
Wednesday’s court decision essentially followed Afula’s evolution on the issue, saying that there should be some way to hold a public musical event allowing for haredim to be comfortable without causing significant discomfort to the wider public, which has been able to attend around 360 events that were not gender-segregated.
Even Sunday’s ruling had not meant that the haredim could not hold a musical event where male and female haredim in attendance could each individually choose to sit separately from each other.
Rather, it had meant that the event organizers cannot force non-haredim attending the event or passing through to observe the gender-segregated measures that haredim might impose on themselves.