Court cancels gender-separate civil service course

On Sunday, Judge Rachel Barag-Hirshberg issued a ruling in favor of IWN’s petition.

haredi women (photo credit: REUTERS)
haredi women
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A men-only cadets course in the Civil Service Commission faces closure unless it admits at least 10 women, following a ruling by the Jerusalem Labor Court on Sunday.
The course began in January and was designed specifically to integrate haredi men into the Civil Service. It was made gender separate to ensure the participation of ultra-Orthodox men who would object to studying with women.
A separate course for haredi women was scheduled to start in October and applications have already been received.
The Israel Women’s Network, however, filed a petition against the state tender for the course before the course commenced, claiming that gender separation was inherently discriminatory and prohibited by Israeli employment law.
On Sunday, Judge Rachel Barag-Hirshberg issued a ruling in favor of IWN’s petition. It gave the state the option of adding at least 10 women to the course, in which 20 haredi men are currently participating, or freezing the course entirely.
Barag-Hirshberg stressed that the Civil Service Commission had elected to make the course for the haredi sector gender separate without any evidentiary basis or examination of alternatives.
“In evaluating the gender of a candidate as a criteria for being accepted for employment, the state injured the basic right of women to equality and in so doing, equal employment opportunities,” wrote Barag-Hirschberg.
IWN director attorney Michal Gera Margaliot said the court had delivered a clear message that gender separation in civil service was prohibited.
“You cannot take us backwards by decades, and acceptance for employment cannot be done according to gender,” she said. “It would be better for the state to integrate haredi men and women in the civil service and not lead toward the ejection of women from the public domain and the workforce.”
A spokeswoman for the organization said that although it understood the necessity of integrating haredi men into the workforce, setting up gender-separate courses was an example of a “separate but equal” framework that would always end up unequal.
She said that just as gender separation on public transport was ruled illegal and discriminatory, so too, gender separation in state institutions is also illegal and discriminatory.
The spokeswoman argued that the notion of gender separation for the haredi sector was based on an illegitimate assumption that men could not sit next to women or be taught by women because even seeing women is somehow immodest and impure.
“We oppose this perspective. We are not coming to tell the haredi world what to do in their community. If haredim want to separate themselves in synagogues and so on then that’s their business. But we’re talking here about the public domain in a democratic society,” she said.
She also argued that there are haredi men who are willing to participate in a course with women, and that the Civil Service Commission should have instead opened a course for haredi men and women, and only if it was unsuccessful consider alternative ideas.
Racheli Ibenboim, a haredi feminist activist, however, said she was saddened by the decision, calling the petition “stupid,” and describing the Civil Service Commission program as being an extremely positive development for haredi society.
“This is responsibility – for the other, for the state,” she said of the fact that haredi men were signing up to work in the service of the country.
“Or, if you like, Zionism. Real, actual, haredim who feel part of the government, who care about where we are going and who we will be from here onwards,” wrote Ibenboim on her Facebook page.
“So today I am angry, really angry towards those fighters for equality because they are willing to lose the future of us all, because they are closing their eyes to the necessity of the process.”