The Jerusalem municipality and a private production company will pay a woman who sued them for holding a gender-segregated conference in the city. The parties reached a compromise that was recently approved by the court and has the validity of a court ruling. The parties agreed not to describe the payment to the plaintiff as “compensation,” and not to reveal the sum involved.
This seems to have set a double precedent: For the first time a private company is paying a settlement because it held an event with gender segregation, and for the first time a local government is paying a settlement because it participated in the funding of that event.
The plaintiff, Ilana Blumberg, is a professor of English literature at Bar-Ilan University. In 2020, she filed her lawsuit in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court against the city of Jerusalem and Image Plus Productions for discrimination on the basis of gender at a 2019 conference on the topic of treatment of attention disorders among teens. The conference, held at the initiative of an ultra-Orthodox nonprofit group, was aimed at the religious and Haredi communities.
Former Education Minister Rafi Peretz participated in the conference, as did Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon, representatives of the cities of Petah Tikva and Rehovot and those from Clalit Health Services and Teva Pharmaceuticals. The conference was held in two halls: a smaller one for women and the second, larger one for men. The main sessions of the conference, including the opening and closing sessions, were held in the men’s hall – and only male speakers participated. There were also two sessions for men while only one was held for women.
According to the suit, Blumberg “felt insult, humiliation and shame in light of the improper decision according to which she cannot associate with men and cannot speak in front of an audience that includes men, and all this is only because of her being a woman.” The lawsuit also claimed that Blumberg felt insulted because women – who are leaders in the field – “cannot speak in front of men, hear and make themselves heard among them as equals among equals.”
Blumberg, who describes herself as religious, told Haaretz that when she received the invitation to the conference, “I didn’t understand why a professional conference – which is in no way connected to religious matters – needs to be held with segregation.”
“I grew up in the United States, and there it is clear that separate cannot be equal,” Blubmerg said. “The conference in Jerusalem is part of a much bigger story: It seems the starting point in Israel is that gender separation is justified.” She added that "the Israeli custom to do everything separately for different communities brings the country to a bad place: Attention and concentration problems do not require four separate conferences."
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A short time before the conference, Dina Zilber, the then-deputy attorney general, determined in response to a request from the Israel Women’s Network that the “nature and essentiality of the conference are not such that can justify the gender segregation in such a framework, and as a result, if the event is held in the format which was announced, then it will represent improper discrimination.”
The city said in its defense that the conference “did not discriminate against any community and did not force any gender segregation.” All that was done was to “limit men from lecturing in the hall that was designated to allow women interested in doing so, to hear lectures from women only.”
In addition, the city argued that because the event was meant for the “treatment of welfare problems and at-risk youths in the Haredi community, then the holding of the event without gender segregation would prevent a part of the public from receiving the service offered.”
Image Plus Productions, which organized the conference, stated in its defense brief that the conference was adapted in its format, its content, its speakers, its following of kashrut laws and its advertising to the Haredi community, and added that its participants “sat in the hall according to their choice and without any exclusion of women.”
The two sides reached a compromise in June: Blumberg would receive a “monetary arrangement” alongside an order forbidding the sides from referring to the payment as “compensation” or revealing the amount. A month ago, the court approved the compromise. Blumberg’s lawyer, Hagai Kalai, called it “appropriate, and reflects the harm that was caused by gender segregation in general – and by gender segregation that is not equal in particular.”
Kalai added that this is another instance where using the claim of cultural preferences, women have been pushed off into a small room on the side and prevented from active participation in a professional conference. “We hope that this legal proceeding will be a clear signal to all the authorities that support – in violation of the law and the instructions of the attorney general – such events and will lead them to prevent them,” said Kalai.
The Jerusalem municipality said the lawsuit was settled through a mediation process between the sides, and has received the status of a court ruling. The details of the legal proceedings may not be published.
Image Plus Productions declined to comment.