Israel must legalize gender segregation, Orthodox parties demand

Religious Zionist Party and United Torah Judaism demand to allow segregated events, services and studies for the haredi and Orthodox public.

 A curtain to separate between men and women during shopping, hang on the wall of a fish shop in downtown Jerusalem (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/FLASH90)
A curtain to separate between men and women during shopping, hang on the wall of a fish shop in downtown Jerusalem
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/FLASH90)

United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionist Party demanded, as part of ongoing coalition negotiations, to legalize gender segregation for the ultra-Orthodox and religious public, a report said Sunday.

The demand is to enact legislation that says that segregation between men and women in public spaces, specifically cultural events for the haredi and religious public, academic studies and public services, would not be considered illegal discrimination, according to Israel Hayom.

Israeli law currently prohibits gender segregation in public services and spaces, except in specific circumstances that meet a number of requisite criteria.

Former attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit stipulated that this includes a provision that not segregating will bar a specific group from participating and a preference that the segregation be voluntary and planned as such.

The courts, in the past, blocked gender-segregated events based on these principles, the most notable being a concert by haredi singer Motti Steinmetz in Afula in 2019, which the High Court ruled unlawful just as the concert was ending.

gender separation 311 (credit: Jeremy Sharon)gender separation 311 (credit: Jeremy Sharon)

The move by UTJ and RZP is aimed at stopping the “legal hounding” of any form of segregation, according to Israel Hayom. It is not intended to force segregation on the public but only for the haredi and religious populaces, the report added.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid responded on Twitter, “While brave women in Iran are fighting for their rights, in Israel, Smotrich and the haredi-religious are trying to relegate women behind barriers and legalize segregation between men and women. Where is the Likud? Why are they silent? This is not Iran,” Lapid wrote.

National Unity MK and former religious affairs minister Matan Kahana responded to Lapid on Twitter: “There are population groups for whom gender segregation is a way of life. Not to enable these population groups to hold gender-segregated events is simply coercion. No Israeli citizen needs to attend these events or study at an institution that includes such segregation. Whoever wants haredi integration into Israeli society cannot force his way of life on others,” Kahana wrote.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli (Labor) tweeted, “There’s no such thing as separate but equal. We warned that a coalition without women would harm women, and they are already demanding that not only they, but also the law, will be able to push women to the back. Women are no less equal. Nobody has the right to decide for anyone else where they sit, what they wear or whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. This is the fight for our democracy.”

UTJ MK Moshe Gafni said, “All those who speak out against gender segregation in public for the haredi and religious populace are showing their true face – that they are dark people who are inconsiderate of people who are different from them. It also shows pathological hatred of the haredi and religious public, and all the more so [since] we are going into a coalition with the Likud.”