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The Transportation Ministry announced on Monday that it would expand a committee created to address gender-segregated mehadrin bus lines, after the High Court of Justice said that the panel's original composition, which included only one woman, was inadequate.
The court's decision came after a petition from the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC). "We responded to the court by saying that there should be appropriate representation for women (based on Israeli law)", Einat Hurvitz, director of IRAC's legal department, wrote to The Jerusalem Post.
"We also said that there should be representation [of] other professionals and not only transportation staff, because of the public importance [of] the committee's work and [the fact that the] conclusions will serve as a precedent on other issues where segregation is sought."
Egged's mehadrin buses, on which men sit in front and women in back, serve areas with large haredi populations. The 30 segregated bus lines, both inter- and intra-city, were created by a Transportation Ministry committee in 1997.
On January 21 of this year, however, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein of the High Court of Justice ruled that the ministry must establish a forum to discuss difficulties related to mehadrin buses, and to give voice to both the haredim who use the bus lines and the petitioners who oppose them.
In his ruling, Rubinstein noted that the mehadrin bus lines were originally intended as an experiment. He also wrote that "The arrangement was meant to be voluntary, with no enforcement against individual travelers and with special signage on the buses."
However, detractors of the bus lines argue that segregated seating on the bus lines in question, which was intended as optional for haredi travelers, was being imposed on non-haredi passengers, and has occasionally resulted in conflicts. In one of the most well-publicized incidents, bestselling author Naomi Ragen claimed to have been verbally assaulted by a group of haredi men for refusing to move to the women's section at the back of a bus.
Ragen and other women with similar experiences petitioned the High Court against the mehadrin lines in January of 2007 in conjunction with IRAC. One woman claimed she had been left stranded on a highway at night after being put off the bus by the driver for wearing a skirt that stopped just above her knees; another wasn't allowed to board a bus because she was wearing trousers.
The original seven-member committee appointed to examine the issue included only one woman, a member of the Transport Ministry's legal department. According to IRAC's Hurvitz, the ministry will appoint more women to the new committee, but has not yet selected any. The ministry will update the High Court on the committee's revised membership on May 11.
"We welcome the formation of the committee," explained Hurvitz about IRAC's position. IRAC further hopes that the Transportation Ministry will "decide that any segregated bus will have an alternative that is not segregated", wrote Hurvitz.
The ministry did not comment by press time.