ultra-Orthodox passenger - Tanya Rosenblit - 18122011
Ultra-Orthodox passengers waiting for the Jerusalem-bound bus on Friday. Photo by Tanya Rosenblit
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Despite all the differences, it's hard not to connect Tanya Rosenblit, the courageous passenger who, on a bus ride between Ashdod and Jerusalem refused to sit in the back, and civil rights activist Rosa Parks. In December 1955, the latter boarded a bus in Montgomery Alabama and, defying the racist segregation policy in effect at the time, refused to yield her seat to a white person. She was arrested, tried and convicted of disturbing public order. The incident led to the bus boycott led by the Reverend Martin Luther King; thereafter, the law mandating racist segregation was challenged in the courts. Toward the end of 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling, holding that Alabama's segregation law for buses was unconstitutional.

Like Parks, it appears that Rosenblit simply wanted to "go home peacefully" - in this case to her workplace in Jerusalem, though she was turned into a heroine against her will. Her obstinate refusal to acquiesce to the violence of some of the Haredi men around her, and her decision not to compromise after a policeman arrived on the scene and tried to mediate between her and her assailants - this was proof that it is possible to stand up to fanatical elements who are trying to forcibly impose their discriminatory norms on the public, and that one must not be deterred by such elements.

Rosenblit thus drew the lines for a civil struggle. From this point, the struggle should be waged hour by hour, day after day, on all bus lines where the Egged company has yielded to pressure and allowed separation between men and women. This is a struggle of supreme importance that should not be relinquished; by the some token, it is totally wrong to allow women to be excluded from other public venues, or to allow their voices to be stifled.

Discrimination against women, and efforts to push them into traditional roles, constitutes just the tip of the iceberg in a process by which Israel is being transformed into a backward, fanatic and unenlightened country.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did well Sunday to denounce those who accosted Rosenblit. But this denunciation does not suffice: The prime minister, his cabinet ministers and the entire public sector must mobilize to defeat extremist religious bullying. If they do not, they will be lending support to a dangerously anti-democratic trend.

Read this article in Hebrew.