Israeli judges query gender segregation on buses

Israeli high court judges last week questioned the state’s support for buses catering to ultra-Orthodox Jews on which women are told to sit in the back.

The case, which spotlights an ever-widening rift between religious and non-observant Jews in Israel, dates from 2007, when a group of women and liberal Israeli groups complained about gender-divided buses operated by state-subsidised firms.

Dozens of such bus routes have been launched, answering demands from politically influential ultra-Orthodox Jews whose beliefs proscribe public contact between men and women.

Israel’s high court convened on Thursday to hear arguments against a recent Transport Ministry statement backing the segregation of sexes on buses in deference to religious views, as long as signs are posted “to ensure this is not forced”.

“With all due respect to signs, I don’t think this is the problem, and I think this issue requires a more in-depth solution,” said Justice Salim Joubran, an Israeli Arab, according to a court transcript.

“What about tolerance, that positive human attribute?” Joubran added. He said there were no such problems in Arab areas where “everyone sits together”.

Justice Yoram Danziger wondered whether a sign could resolve problems of abuse some women have complained of after resisting calls to move to the rear. “Would a sign that says ‘no violence here’ solve the problem?” he said.

Attorneys for six women and liberal groups contesting the segregated buses asked for an interim injunction to demand further explanation from the government, but justices again postponed any ruling on the case.

“It is clear that all the legal issues raised by this case have not yet been addressed,” Einat Horowitz, representing the appellants, told the court, adding that Orthodox women, not only secular, complained of poor treatment on segregated buses.

“Any involvement by the state in segregation involves coercion,” Horowitz said.


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