High Court: Gender Segregation Legal on Israeli Buses - but Only With Passenger Consent

In response to petition submitted against ultra-Orthodox Mehadrin line nearly three years ago, Israel's highest legal body rules that coercion of such practice is illegal: 'Have we returned to the days of Rosa Parks?'

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

The High Court of Justice ruled Thursday that public bus companies could continue the practice of gender segregation on dozens of lines serving the ultra-Orthodox sector, as long as there is no coercion or violence involved.

"A public transportation operator, like any other person, does not have the right to order, request or tell women where they may sit simply because they are women," Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein wrote in his ruling. "They must sit wherever they like."

Ultra-Orthodox men riding a sex-segregated bus in Jerusalem. Credit: Emil Salman

"As I now read over these lines emphasizing this I am astounded that there was even a need to write them in the year 2010," he added. "Have the days of Rosa Parks, the African American woman who collapsed the racist segregation on an Alabama bus in 1955 returned?"

In the last hearing on the matter late last year, Rubinstein had indicated that the justices were inclined to accept a recommendation to that effect already adopted by the Transportation Ministry

The Transportation Ministry committee had found that while it could not declare the segregation legal, the existing buses on the "Mehadrin" line should be given another chance to continue operating temporarily as long as any segregation was voluntary and women were not being forced to sit in the back of the bus.

The Reform movement's Israel Religious Action Center, which initially petitioned against the practice, said following that hearing that adoption of the Transportation Ministry committee findings indicates that the High Court endorses the idea that such segregation is illegal. The ministry must intensify bus monitoring to ensure there is no coercion or violence, said the center.

Orly Erez-Likhovski, who represents several women who were also party to the petition, also welcomed Rubinstein's statement.

The Mehadrin lines serve mostly ultra-Orthodox communities, but are open for all public commuters. A petition deeming the segregated lines illegal was filed in 2007, after several women complained of being verbally and physically assaulted for failing to sit in the back of the bus.

The state had already fully accepted the Transportation Ministry's position that the committee findings allowing the continued segregation should be adopted.

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