Israel Asks to Postpone Freeze on Sex-segregated Training Courses for Civil Service

Civil service is an alternative for Israelis who don't serve in the army; in battle over courses offered to ultra-Orthodox Israelis, court allowed the state to continue excluding women

Ultra-Orthodox women at a class in Jerusalem.
Tess Shaplan

The National Labor Court decided on Sunday to allow the state to continue to offer mens-only courses to ultra-Orthodox candidates for the civil service – until it makes a final decision on the matter later this week.

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Two weeks ago, the Jerusalem Labor Court ordered the state to halt the courses on the grounds that gender separation in state institutions violates the principle of equality. It gave the state 30 days to add at least 10 women to the study program – or freeze it. The court added, moreover, that if the state made it clear it would not enrol women, the course would be suspended that same day. That decision was in response to a petition by the Israel Women’s Network.

On Saturday night, the regional labor court rejected the state’s request to delay the freeze, prompting the state to appeal to the National Labor Court.

In its request for a delay, the state said the purpose of the separate-gender training is to gradually expose participants to a mixed-gender environment. In rejecting the request, the Jerusalem court said this argument cannot justify undermining of the right to equality.

The regional court rebuffed the state’s claim that the decision to freeze the mens-only course will harm the ultra-Orthodox students in the program.

“Given that the state was well aware of the risks it was taking, and especially since it was considered an experimental program that had no parallel, was never held in the past and was not subject to judicial review ... in balancing all the considerations we came to the conclusion that, what tips the scales in this situation is the severe and direct violation of the right to equality, which is a constitutional right,” the court ruled.

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The court added, “It is not clear what steps the state has taken since the ruling. Has it tried to recruit the small number of women we allowed? Did it examine various options for helping these women make up the first third of the training they missed?” Since the state apparently took no such steps, the court said, “Accepting the request, when it is not accompanied by an alternative arrangement that will remedy the violation of the constitutional right of equality, is not possible.”

The attorneys for the Israel Women’s Network issued a statement, saying, “The decision by the National Labor Court to hear the state’s request to delay implementing the order within a few days shows it will conduct a hearing that’s speedy and to the point. Given the clear language of the law, which forbids opening jobs to only one gender, we believe the National Labor Court will reject the state’s appeal.”