Supreme Court Censures Haredi Radio Station Over Women-free Broadcasts

In rare legal step, top court accepts class action suit by Orthodox women's group against Kol Barama for allegedly barring women from air waves.

Ron Elon

The Supreme Court approved a class action suit Thursday against an ultra-Orthodox radio station for its alleged exclusion of women from the air.

The court rejected an appeal by the station, Kol Barama, against the suit, which is being brought by the Orthodox women’s organization Kolech, that the station does not allow women to appear on the air.

The appeal was presented by attorneys Asaf Fink and Orli Erez-Likhovski, and by the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement, which is involved in the appeal though it does not appear formally as part of it.

Orthodox women’s organization Kolech
Olivier Fitoussi

In their ruling, Supreme Court Justices Yoram Danziger, Esther Hayut and Daphne Barak-Erez echoed the district court’s criticism of Kol Barama, which was established in 2009 as part of a franchise of the Second Authority for Television and Radio. Since 2011, as complaints against the station increased, it slightly softened its policy and allowed women to speak briefly on the air. However, this did not satisfy Kolech, which initiated a class action suit against the station for 104 million shekels (about $26.9 million).

Last year, the district court ruled that Kolech could bring a class action suit, despite a rare legal situation in that no individuals are involved as injured parties.

However, Kol Barama appealed, stating that it had not broken the anti-discrimination law and that Kolech did not have the right to bring a class action suit. But the Supreme Court allowed the suit to go forward on the argument that it would be difficult to bring in individual women who would publicly claim they had been discriminated against by the station.

In the ruling, Danziger related at length to the exclusion of women in the public sphere and expressed “disgust at this phenomenon, which seems only to be growing, to the extent that it reaches the level of prohibited discrimination.” Danziger also said that the exclusion of women “fatally wounds human dignity, and crudely impairs the basic and core rights of women.”

Danziger said the seriousness of the situation comes to light particularly when women are forced to have a court declare that they are allowed to conduct basic activities in the public sphere, and that this hurts not only individual women but all of society.

Danziger ruled that the radio station would have to pay the 100,000-shekel cost of the appeal and Kolech’s attorneys’ fees of 50,000 shekels.

The director of Kolech, attorney Yael Rockman, said the ruling was precedent setting because it was the first time the court has addressed the question in principle of the exclusion of women. Moreover, Rockman said, “The court had reiterated the importance of Kolech in making women’s voices heard” and in representing women.

Kol Barama said, “We regret the court’s decision, but it should be remembered that this is a suit that relates to a period five years ago. Since then the radio station has made a number of changes together with the Second Authority and the court approved them. Nevertheless, the court accepted the station’s position on the central point and determined that the station could not be fined without proof of damage.”

The station claimed that the women filing the suit “are Reform and are completely unconnected to the station and our listeners. Kol Barama is an ultra-Orthodox station and operates according to the directives of the [leading rabbis’] to protect the dignity and glorification of women in keeping with the position of halakha [Jewish law] and accepted laws and norms and it will continue to operate in this way in the future.”