The religious coercion train
Catering to religious demands for gender segregation on the new Jerusalem light rail is a move in the wrong direction.
Maj. Gen. (res. ) Yair Naveh, CEO of the CityPass consortium that operates Jerusalem's light rail system, has proposed allocating sex-segregated cars for ultra-Orthodox passengers. His proposal is astounding and exceeds his authority as director of a franchisee that provides public transportation services.
"The train was built to serve everyone," Naveh said in defense of his proposal, adding, "I think it is necessary to create alternatives for everyone." In his view, "It is not a problem to declare every third or fourth car a mehadrin [super-kosher] car."
The train is indeed intended for everyone, but the significance of Naveh's statement is the diametric opposite. Precisely because the light rail is a public service for the whole population, its passengers must not be forced to adapt themselves to the practices of one particular community.
Public transportation systems - trains, subways, elevated trains, buses, trolleys and planes - run all over the world without adapting to special needs (except, of course, the needs of people with disabilities, a matter that still needs considerable improvement in Israel ). Ever since segregation was banned on buses in the southern United States, it has not occurred to anyone in the free world to demand that transportation be segregated by race or religious creed.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn or London, who strictly separate the sexes in their own communities, ride ordinary public transportation. If they are not interested in sitting in mixed company, they arrange this for themselves without imposing on other passengers.
In Israel, the principle of equality in public transportation was breached when the Egged bus company, which is subsidized by the state, chose to provide segregated mehadrin lines for Haredi (ultra-Orthodox ) passengers at a reduced price, despite the protests from many passengers whose convenience was impaired.
The light rail system in Jerusalem is supposed to provide transportation service to both the city's residents and visiting tourists. Segregated cars will merely reinforce ultra-Orthodox separatism, since the Haredim see segregation as a means of imposing their way of life on society as a whole. And it will further distance the public - local and foreign alike - from the capital city.
Naveh's proposal should be shelved before it arouses a new wave of ultra-Orthodox demands.