'Feminist' Religious Lecturer Loses Appeal Against Dismissal

Dr. Hannah Kehat said the only reason she was fired from her position at the Orot Israel teachers' college was that she "dared raise a feminist voice in the national religious camp for women suffering from rape and sexual harassment, and worst of all, succeeded."

Kehat made the statement in her appeal to Jerusalem District Labor Tribunal to prevent her dismissal from the college. The tribunal accepted the college's reasoning for her dismissal as being the small number of students who registered for her classes because of her opinions and activities.

Kehat, who is the founder of the religious women's organization Kolech, said this week that religious society is waging a fight against religious feminism. "Unfortunately, the Labor Tribunal joined these forces. The decision means that a public institution can dismiss whomever they don't like - an Ethiopian woman, a disabled person or a woman with different opinions. It is my right not to be discriminated against for my opinions," Kehat said.

Kehat was also among the founders of Takana, a forum of Orthodox public figures who investigate charges of sexual harassment by religious educators. However, she resigned from the forum a few months ago, saying that Kolech had been sidelined from the decision-making process in the affair involving Rabbi Mordechai Elon, whose alleged sexual improprieties with his students was publicly aired by the forum.

The Weizmann Institute has recently decided to award Kehat an honorary doctorate.

Kehat has been teaching mainly Bible and Jewish philosophy at Orot Israel, in the West Bank settlement of Elkana, for 15 years. In 2006, she sued the college in the District Labor Tribunal over the intent to fire her. Kehat charged that the head of the college, Prof. Neria Guttel, was "seeking revenge" against her for her campaign some years before against one of his friends, a lecturer at the women's Jewish studies college affiliated with Bar-Ilan University, who was suspected of sexual harassment, as well as for her activities with Kolech.

She said at the time that women students had been "warned not to register for my classes because I am a feminist," and has sued Guttel for slander in the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court.

On March 31, the Labor Tribunal rejected Kehat's demand that the college be prevented from firing her. "All the college sought to do was to study the matter of [Kehat's] continued employment based on the rules of agreements and law in light of the small number of registrants for her courses, which hurt the college budget," the tribunal concluded.

The tribunal said Kehat had not managed to prove that the college was responsible for students not signing up for her courses, nor had she proved a connection between the Bar-Ilan affair and her claims against the head of Orot Israel.

Kehat's appeal states that the Labor Tribunal's decision would mean that institutions of higher education "can fire a tenured lecturer on no grounds whatsoever, other than one claim and that is her feminist worldview, although they are entirely supported by government funding, and they are academic and must be pluralistic."

According to the appeal, the tribunal erred in ignoring the fact that the college had stopped assigning Kehat to required courses in her field, which she had taught successfully for years. The college could therefore not use the claim of under-registration as a reason for firing her.

Speaking for the college, attorney Spiegel Pail said the tribunal had cleared the college of any wrongdoing and had harshly criticized Kehat's "rude and aggressive style."