Public performance

It is unacceptable that a government member should speak in this fashion and further foster the delegitimization of the court system.

August 13, 2019 02:35
3 minute read.
A train passes through Savidor Center Station, Tel Aviv.

A train passes through Savidor Center Station, Tel Aviv.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Transportation Minister and Union of Right-Wing Parties MK Bezalel Smotrich on Sunday called the judicial system “stupid,” following a ruling by the Nazareth District Court that a musical event in a public park in Afula aimed at the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community may not have gender-segregated seating.

The minister later tweeted the name and photo of the justice who made the decision, Yonatan Avraham, calling him “the fool judge,” and went on to blast the attorney-general’s deputy Dina Zilber, “who has led the madness in the Justice Ministry in the past few years, and [Attorney-General] Avichai Mandelblit, who knows that he is acting against the law, but he is afraid to deal with her [Zilber] and with pro-women organizations...”

Smotrich, both as a minister and a qualified lawyer, knows that the court had no choice but to follow the law and a cabinet resolution, both of which ban gender-separated events in public places.

It is unacceptable that a government member should speak in this fashion and further foster the delegitimization of the court system.

The situation itself however, as usual, is more nuanced than first appears. Had the event been held in a private venue and been privately-funded, the issue would not have arisen. But public money and public sites cannot be used to sanction any form of discrimination, be it based on gender, religion or ethnicity.

The Afula municipality had supported the event featuring singer Motti Steinmetz, who is very popular in ultra-Orthodox circles, saying that out of some 360 public events held by the city this summer, it is entitled to hold one event that suits haredi sensitivities. Nonetheless, the municipality said it would respect the court’s ruling.

As The Jerusalem Post’s Yonah Jeremy Bob and Jeremy Sharon noted, the decision does not mean that haredim cannot hold the August 14 event, where those males and females who want to sit separately can do so, but the organizers cannot force non-haredim attending the event or passing through to observe the gender-segregated measures that haredim might impose on themselves.

To that end, the court determined that organizers, ushers and police must ensure that no gender segregation under duress takes place.

The court ordered the Afula municipality to pay NIS 5,000 in legal expenses to local feminist activist Noga Sharon and the Israel Women’s Network NGO, who had sued the city for sponsoring the event.

Following the ruling, Steinmetz reportedly canceled his performance.

It’s a pity that common sense did not rule and that a compromise could not have been reached. Clearly, the general secular public, most of whom had not even heard of Steinmetz until this week, was not going to flock to the event in the same way that the ultra-Orthodox do not flock to hear superstar Sarit Hadad perform.

As Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said on KAN Radio’s Reshet Bet, while supporting the court decision – and criticizing Smotrich’s rhetoric – a solution might have been found in which there would have been an area for families who want to sit together. In other words, there should be no coercion but there’s room to respect different ways of life and beliefs. It should also be asked whether Sharon and the Israel Women’s Network would have taken such a strident stand against a performance or other event marketed as being by women and for women only.

Separating men from women in the public sphere is not befitting in a modern, democratic state. Neither does it behoove a Jewish state, given that there is no such religious requirement. Care must be taken to avoid creeping gender separation and the disappearance of the image of women from the public sphere – as in advertisements and political campaigns in which women do not appear. At the same time, there needs to be respect for the large sector with its special sensitivities.

Ahead of the upcoming elections, the matter takes on added importance given the reports surrounding the last polls and coalition-forming attempts, in which it was claimed that the haredi parties had been negotiating with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on, among other things, easing the laws against gender-separated events and facilities.

In a week in which the Jewish people commemorated Tisha Be’av, the destruction of the First and Second Temples because of baseless hatred, we need to agree that coercion – whether secular or religious – is not the way to bring about genuine change.

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