Israel's AG Says Gender-segregated Events Permissible 'If Public Desires'

In wake of heated debate in Israel, Avichai Mendelblit argues that there is 'no legal impediment' for cities 'to separate men and women if they so choose'

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Gender-segregated concert held in Afula, August 15, 2019.
Gender-segregated concert held in Afula, August 15, 2019. Credit: Gil Eliahu

Israeli cities can hold gender-segregated public events, including nonreligious ones, under certain conditions, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said Thursday in a opinion issued by him.

Following a gender-segregated concert held in the northern city of Afula last week, Mendelblit formulated an interim opinion in which he wrote that "there is no legal impediment to separate men and women if they so choose, and the justification for the separation is greater if the event are attended by a public that desires to be segregated."

The Supreme Court overruled a lower court’s decision to permit the gender-segregated concert in Afula, handing down its ruling while the concert was being held with segregation in place following the Nazareth District Court’s ruling earlier in the day to permit it.

>> Read more: Israel's attorney general is allowing the gender-segregation tsunami to sweep over | Analysis ■ The many humiliations of sex segregation | Opinion ■ Segregation halted, for now | Editorial

Mendelblit set criteria for gender-segregated events for municipalities, which he said "are guidelines that are meant to assist local authorities to decide whether to hold gender-segregated events for communities who desire such separation."

He stressed that this is "an interim position, which will be valid until a comprehensive legal discussion will be held on the matter."

Mendelblit stated four conditions to justify gender segregation at a public event: Separation must be voluntary; the audience attending the event desires separation between men and women; men and women attending the event should be given equal conditions; the impact on those who oppose segregation must be minimized. 

In 2014, the cabinet passed a resolution called “Prevention of the Exclusion of Women from the Public Domain,” thereby adopting a comprehensive report on the issue. The resolution stated that “no government ministry or other public authority is permitted to organize a public event in which measures shall be taken to effect separation between men and women.” The only “narrow and limited” exception in the law is for “an event that is essentially a religious ritual or religious ceremony.”