Central Israeli City Ramat Hasharon Adopts Sexual Equality Policy

The initiative, led by four female local council members, was approved unanimously hoping move will help discourage exclusion of women from city-sponsored events

Or Kashti
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The gender-segregated event at Afula Municipal Park, August 2019.
The gender-segregated event at Afula Municipal Park, August 2019.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Or Kashti

The Ramat Hasharon Council this week adopted the recommendations of a government report to end discrimination against women as the official policy of the Tel Aviv suburb.

The report, which the cabinet adopted around six years ago, calls for an end to sex-based discrimination in every area of public policy. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, however, exempted a few months ago sexual segregation even at state-funded culture and entertainment events from these recommendations, which were drawn up by his office.

The initiative, led by four female Ramat Hasharon council members from three factions, was approved unanimously Monday. Its sponsors hope the move will help to discourage discrimination against women and the exclusion of women from city-sponsored events, such as musical performances and various ceremonies.

Advocates of sex-segregated events cite precedents in Afula, Haifa and elsewhere, as well as efforts by religious organizations to hold segregated public events.

“In recent years ‘norms’ suggesting that excluding women is legitimate have spread,” a member of the Ramat Hasharon Hofshit city council faction said.

“This is a historic distortion that misleads us into thinking that [the exclusion of women in the public sphere] was always acceptable in Judaism. Adopting the report protects not only the liberal public but also the moderate religious public that cannot speak up against extremist rabbis.”

Council member Neta Ziv, of Meretz, said the vote shows that “the struggle against the exclusion of women has moved to local governments. It is right that Ramat Hasharon, which is committed to equality, tolerance and pluralism, should lead this move.”

Some government ministries – mainly those held by ultra-Orthodox parties – opposed the report’s adoption and ignored its directives, frequently clashing with Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, who is in charge of implementing it.

While the government searched for ways to “bend the equality principle” by finding exceptions based on “cultural consideration” and to erode the report’s instructions, additional communities are considering its adoption.

The report was submitted in March 2013 to then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein by an interministerial team that was appointed to examine the exclusion of women from the public sphere. The cabinet adopted its recommendations a year later.

“The government recognizes that the exclusion of women from the public sphere constitutes discrimination and is therefore a serious violation of human rights and contradicts Israel’s international commitments,” the resolution said.

The gender-segregated event at a municipal park in Afula, in northern Israel, on Wednesday, August 15, 2019.Credit: Gil Eliahu

The report addressed sexual segregation at funerals and the prohibition against women giving eulogies as well as segregation between men and women on public transportation, at medical clinics and official state ceremonies or state-sponsored events.

“A ministry or other public body may not organize a state, government or public event, during which steps are taken to segregate men and women. This also applies to events where most of the audience is religious or ultra-Orthodox, or consists of religious content. The fact that most of public expected to attend may prefer segregation is not a justification for it,” the report says.

In recent years the Ministry for the Development of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee, headed by Shas Chairman Arye Dery, has ignored the ban on allocating government funds to sex-segregated culture and entertainment events. Last summer a planned musical performance in Afula with separate seating for men and women was prohibited by a district court judge in Nazareth. A different judge overruled the decision and said the concert could proceed as planned, but the Supreme Court upheld the original ruling and canceled the event.

In the wake of this incident, the attorney general issued criteria for holding sex-segregated events with public funding. In “special circumstances,” sex segregation is permissible even at public events that are not entirely religious, Mendelblit ruled, contradicting his own policy until then.