Israeli Court Bars Men-only, City-funded Concert

Judge says northern city of Haifa failed to make case for barring women from event using public funds

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Haifa's District Court, August 25, 2019.
Haifa's District Court, August 25, 2019. Credit: Rami Shllush

The Haifa District Court on Sunday ordered the cancellation of a men-only concert planned for Monday at the Haifa International Convention Center, saying the city hadn’t made a convincing case for why women should be excluded.

“When an event is closed to women because of the content of an event, there must be appropriate legal and factual grounds for such a decision,” Judge Avraham Elyakim wrote. “No such grounds were presented in the municipality’s response in writing or verbally during the hearing.”

The ruling was issued in response to a petition by the Israel Women’s Network against the city and ultra-Orthodox singers Motty Steinmetz and Mordechai Ben-David, who were meant to perform.

Elyakim added, “The Haredi community is entitled to funding of its cultural programs like any other community, but when public funds are at issue, one should follow the guidelines proposed by the attorney general. It’s important to remember that ... there’s a law prohibiting discrimination in [providing] products, services or entrance to places of entertainment and public places, which is aimed to ‘promote equality and prevent discrimination.’”

On Friday Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said the Haifa Municipality had “failed to meet the burden of explaining the justification for holding the event in its current men-only format.”

On Thursday Mendelblit announced that there was no legal problem with sex-segregated events, as long as the separation was voluntary.

The opinion issued Friday stated that, “The constitutional right to equality is derived from the right to human dignity, which is anchored in the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty. In light of this, undermining equality, which could also undermine human dignity, must … be done by the power of law that suits the values of the State of Israel, for a worthy purpose and to an extent that doesn’t exceed what is necessary.” The opinion was written by Ayala Feiles-Sharon, the Haifa district attorney for civil issues, and Yousef Daoud, a senior attorney in the Haifa district prosecution for civil issues.

In his statement Thursday, the attorney general said that if a local government wants to hold a sex-segregated event, it must be determined whether the character of the target audience and the type of event would allow for voluntary separation with no coercion. The attorneys stressed that the attorney general and his representatives did not have all the details or circumstances of the event, therefore the opinion is based on the information provided by the municipality, and because the performance was slated for men only, it “Raises a particular difficulty and suspicion of forbidden discrimination.” Therefore, they wrote, “The municipality must point to a serious justification, based on a relevant distinction stemming from the character of the event that demonstrates a substantive need for holding the event for men only.”

Last week the Israel Women’s Network had contacted Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem, after reading in Haaretz about the planned men’s-only concert. In response, the office of the city’s legal adviser said that holding an event for men only was not forced separation, but voluntary and that the Haredi public is the one being excluded from the public square at a list of events meant for the general public.