Mayor Nir Barkat has dismissed Rachel Azaria from Jerusalem's coalition government, but the city denies he did so because Azaria is against gender segregation in the ultra-Orthodox Mea She'arim quarter. It says loyalty to city council policy is the issue.
Azaria had served on the council since Barkat's election in 2008. A few months ago, Barkat even considered her as a candidate for deputy mayor. This week his office told her she had been dismissed and no longer had responsibility for preschool education and local community administration.
Azaria has spearheaded the campaign against the separation of men and women in ultra-Orthodox communities. Last week she filed a complaint to the High Court of Justice protesting the gender separation on Mea She'arim's streets during phases of the Sukkot holiday. The High Court ruled that the segregation was not legal but allowed it to remain partly in effect this year.
Members of the Haredi community were delighted by Azaria's dismissal. A headline on a popular ultra-Orthodox website, B'hedri Haredim, declared: "A joyous holiday in Jerusalem: Barkat fires the provocateur."
Azaria said the court was teaming up with "the extreme wing of the Haredi community." "The High Court clarified that segregation in public spaces is illegal and immoral, and its president, [Dorit] Beinisch, stressed that the topic is critical," she said.
"Much to my surprise, the mayor responded by opposing the High Court and allying with the extreme wing of the Haredi community, and he took away my coalition portfolios. I am concerned that the ultra-Orthodox will receive these responsibilities, and I am worried that Barkat is behaving as though the Haredim run [the city]. They are the ones who decide, and that is worrisome."
Officials in Barkat's office said the dismissal was not related to the High Court petition since the municipality and mayor oppose separation of the sexes. People close to Barkat said the dismissal was procedural - just as a government minister cannot sue the prime minister, a municipal coalition member cannot lodge complaints against the city.
"The Jerusalem municipality opposes gender separation in public spaces, and it will continue to help the police enforce the law as is required," a city spokesman said. "Without any connection to this, the rule that all coalition factions are beholden - as a result of their membership in the municipal coalition - to mutual commitment and loyalty remains in effect.
"Azaria's attempt to have it both ways by remaining a member of the municipal administration while filing a complaint against it is implausible and inappropriate. It was made entirely clear to her that her actions as a coalition member were not acceptable, and she was asked to change her position. But she preferred to oppose the municipality."