Israeli Court Slams Government for Discriminating Against Women With Male-only ultra-Orthodox Training Course

The decision is a blow to those who support institutionalizing separation between the sexes for Haredim in the army, the academic world and the civil service

Tour of Ir Elad
Ofer Vaknin

A labor court in Jerusalem has ruled that the government must desegregate a single-sex civil service training course within 30 days, or it will be halted. The decision is a blow to those who support institutionalizing frameworks that have separation between the sexes for ultra-Orthodox communities in the army, the academic world and the civil service.

The state will need to add at least 10 women to the training course, which is designed for Haredim and is considered one of the flagship programs of the Civil Service Commission. It opened about two months ago with enrollment for men only, and currently has about 20 participants.

“The government undermined the basic right of women to equality, and thereby to equal employments opportunities,” wrote Judge Rachel Barag-Hirshberg of the Jerusalem Regional Labor Court, responding to a petition filed by the Israel Women’s Network, which promotes women’s equality. The judge was not satisfied with the promise that a separate course for women will open in about six months and stated that starting it much later than the men’s course does not compensate for the inequality that has been created.

In the weeks preceding the course’s opening, the Civil Service Commission repeatedly rejected the warnings of the Women’s Network that it constituted a severe blow to the right to equality. One reason is that the program is a pilot which will guide various decisions, including how to treat gender separation, going forward.

Off the record, the organizations participating in the program recognized the blow to women’s rights, but claimed that integrating Haredim into the civil service was more important. The civil service also stated that although the training course is gender-segregated, the actual work will be in a mixed environment, and that registration recently began for a women’s class, which is scheduled to open in October.

The course is also sponsored by an ultra-Orthodox foundation and is in effect run by the Jewish Statesmanship Center, a conservative organization identified with the right wing. The rejection of a separate training course echoes a similar viewpoint expressed by the Jerusalem District Court about a month and a half ago regarding separate training courses for ultra-Orthodox tour guides. Under pressure from the court, the Tourism Ministry canceled its intention to conduct single-sex courses.

The High Court of Justice has also discussed petitions that academics brought forward against the Council for Higher Education’s policy of offering separate academic courses for the ultra-Orthodox.

According to the Jerusalem Regional Labor Court’s ruling, opening jobs in the civil service for only men means that “the sex of the candidate - male - is a criterion according to which the candidate was hired” and that this is “a forbidden consideration” in light of the Employment (Equal Opportunities) Law.

“To our regret, there was a need for the intervention of the court in order to prevent [gender] separation at work,” said Michal Gera Margaliot, the managing director of the Israel Women’s Network. “The government would do well to integrate ultra-Orthodox men and women into the civil service and in general, alongside women, rather than leading to their exclusion from the public space and the job market.”

The Civil Service Commission said in response that it “is studying the decision.” According to sources in the commission, “The program, in which there is a short period of separation, is the only way to enable the various circles and groups in the Haredi population to enter the civil service.”