Israel has been too tolerant of religious groups seeking to infringe on women's rights, said Frances Raday, a law professor specializing in women's rights.
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In one of the latest examples of ultra-Orthodox attitudes toward women and the law, extremist Haredim in Beit Shemesh threw stones at and cursed police officers Sunday, as they were taking down a sign ordering men and women to walk on opposite sides of the street.
"There is an abundance of tools in jurisprudence to oppose discrimination of women; the problem is that people are dealing with symptoms, and not the disease," said Raday, who teaches at the College of Management's law school and is a member of a UN human rights council task force that deals with discrimination against women.
"Since its establishment, the State of Israel has displayed an exaggerated degree of tolerance toward the phenomenon of religious values' overthrow of human rights values, and this includes trespass of the rights of women," Raday said yesterday. "Every attempt to pass a human rights law failed due to the 'right to equality' clause, particularly its meaning as the right of women to equality, and this failure has always been caused by the Jewish religious lobby. It's not surprising to see that there was nothing that stopped religious groups from believing that they are more powerful than the value of equality, and that they can apply patriarchal interpretations of Jewish sources holding that their views take precedence relative to the value of equality."
According to attorney Riki Shapira-Rozenberg, legal counsel to the Kolech women's organization and a party to the 2007 complaint lodged by the Reform movement regarding the segregation of women on buses, there is a law that can be used as a partial counterweight to the exclusion of women.
That law bans discrimination of products, services and entry to leisure venues and public places, and allows complainants to file civil claims against hotels, restaurants, sports facilities and public transportation services that discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex or nationality.