Israeli Bus Company Advocates Segregated Seats Despite Court Ruling

Supreme Court ruled in landmark case in January that public buses cannot forcefully segregate men and women.

The Egged bus company has allegedly violated a Supreme Court ruling which forbids segregation on public transportation buses on the basis of gender.

In an announcement with the company logo, published in early June in a local Haredi magazine, the arrangements for gender segregation on Egged buses in the city were detailed.

egged - Olivier Fitoussi - June 21 2011
Olivier Fitoussi

For its part, Egged says that the company logo used in the announcement was copied illegally and that the content of the ad does not reflect its policy.

However, the company is not yet sure whether the arrangements outlined in the ad have been implemented, subjecting bus lines used by the ultra-Orthodox to gender segregation, in violation of the court ruling.

The announcement in the Haredi magazine Pothim Shavua on June 4, just before Shavuot, commented on the expected changes in the schedules of the intercity bus lines 450 and 451, linking Ashdod and Jerusalem. As the two lines essentially connect the Haredi neighborhoods in the two cities, and do not pass through the central bus stations, they are known as "Mehadrin lines" even though Egged insists that officially there is no such concept.

The announcement in the Haredi magazine said that on Shavuot eve the buses "will depart from a number of points, with two buses - one for families, and one only for men, accompanied by a supervisor onboard!!!" [exclamations in the original text].

It also stated that at the end of the holiday, an "only for men" bus will be available from Yirmiyahu Street.

In its ruling in January, the Supreme Court did not ban gender segregation on public buses, which has been ongoing for years on public Mehadrin lines. However the court did stipulate that the segregation should not be imposed or ordered by anyone. In other words, the segregation can occur only on a voluntary basis.

Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, who led a panel of Justices on this issue, wrote in the ruling that "a public transportation company (like any other person ) cannot say, ask or order women where to sit on a bus simply because they are women, nor what they should wear, and they are entitled to sit anywhere they wish. Of course, this also applies to the men, but for reasons that are obvious, the complaints [filed by the petitioners, including the Center for Jewish Pluralism and a number of individual women] have to do with the harmful behavior toward women. When I go back and read the lines just written, I wonder how is it that it is necessary in Israel of 2010 to write them."

Even though the announcement in the Haredi magazine has the logo of Egged, there is no seal from any of the advertising firms the company works with. It is possible that the announcement was published as an initiative of Haredi "transportation politicians," who mediate between Egged and the Haredi communities in Ashdod and do not officially work for the company.

No one has argued that the information in the announcement, which includes the time table and the segregation arrangements, is false or that it was not carried out.

The Free Israel movement said that in recent days much of the objections to the announcement had come from within the haredi community of Ashdod.

"We are witness to efforts by Egged and the Ministry of Transportation that backs the company, to use any means, to cooperate with the Haredi politicians in order not to carry out the Supreme Court decision, and in essence maintain these bus lines which discriminate against women," said Miki Gissin, who heads the Free Israel movement that fights segregated bus lines.

The company said that "the announcement in the local Haredi press in Ashdod is a forgery which was done without the knowledge of Egged, making illegal use of its logo. Egged intends to use all means available to prevent a recurrence of similar instances in the future.

Ron Ratner, a spokesman for the company, added that "Egged operates only in line with Supreme Court instructions and allows every passenger to select his seat without gender discrimination. Population groups wishing to travel separately do so voluntarily and in line with the Supreme Court instructions. We cannot prevent this."

With regard to lines 450 and 451, the spokesman said that only men traveled because there was no demand by women, and not because there were instructions from anyone which prevented the travel of women.