Israeli Minister Blasts 'Weak' Netanyahu Over Court Ruling Blocking Gender Segregation

Bezalel Smotrich also said court system was 'stupid' after judge barred a northern municipality from holding a gender-separated event for the ultra-Orthodox public, sparking heated debate by political leaders

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich.
Ilan Assayag, Olivier Fitoussi

Israel's Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the United Right slate lashed out at a court ruling handed down Sunday that bars the Afula municipality from carrying out gender separation at an event in a public park for the ultra-Orthodox community.

Taking aim at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well, Smotrich, an Orthodox politician who has expressed the aspiration that Israel ultimately be governed by Jewish religious law, tweeted: “The judicial system is stupid. Excuse me that despite my status, I can’t find a milder word. [This is] fundamentalist progressive stupidity. And since we are devotees of governability, we will not solve [it] ourselves by shifting responsibility to the lawyers: [We have] a weak prime minister on whose watch a hundred percent of this craziness is taking place. Zero leadership. Zero governability. Dina Zilber is the real prime minister.”

Zilber is a deputy attorney general who has taken issue with attempts at gender separation in public settings.

>> Read more: Lapid is right, Israel’s coddling of the ultra-Orthodox community will lead to disaster | Analysis ■ Smotrich isn’t only a homophobe | Opinion

In an apparent reference to Smotrich’s comments, Netanyahu said he was “not impressed by the recommendations of the Twitter cabinet.”

Culture Minister Miri Regev of Netanyahu’s Likud party called on Smotrich to apologize for his comments about the prime minister. “Smotrich, you should be ashamed of yourself!’ she tweeted.

For his part, Avigdor Lieberman, the head of Yisrael Beiteinu, whose current election campaign has been aimed in large measure at criticizing the ultra-Orthodox and religious parties, tweeted that Smotrich’s comments on the event in Afula and his support for an Israel governed by religious law are “the reason that Yisrael Beitenu won’t sit in a government with Smotrich....”

Also weighing in on the debate, the spokesman’s office for the court administration took note of attacks against the judiciary in the Afula case, but did not mention Smotrich by name. In a tweet, the spokesman’s office condemned what it said were personal attacks against the Nazareth District Court, calling them “a new low in the harsh rhetoric that is unfortunately spreading in our country against state institutions.”

Knesset member Moshe Gafni of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism faction condemned the district court ruling and noted that it came on Tisha B’Av, the day of mourning commemorating, among other events, the destruction of the First and Second Temples of antiquity in Jerusalem.

“The judge’s ruling is an evil one, appropriate for Tisha B’Av – the date of the Temple’s destruction – and will lead many adults and young people not to attend the event. I call upon all participants not to cause one another harm and for everyone to remain in his place, by preference and agreement.”

The event at the park was advertised as “an event for families with full [gender] separation,” even though the city’s involvement in a separate-seating event would violate a cabinet resolution on the matter.

In his ruling, District Court Judge Yonatan Avraham wrote: “Anyone coming to the event is permitted, according to his judgment, to be anywhere at the event site, and none of the ushers or security people, or anyone else affiliated with the organizing of the event, can take any action to separate [them] according to gender.”

In addition, Avraham ordered security personnel and ushers to prevent any gender separation “and head off any effort to post signs demanding separation” or the use of barriers or announcements for that purpose, “and to involve the police present at the site if anyone tries to enforce separation.”

The judge also instructed the police to provide assistance to anyone claiming that gender separation is occurring and to remove anyone seeking to separate men from women. The judge ordered the Afula municipality to pay 5,000 shekels ($1,437) in court costs to the petitioners who challenged the arrangements – the Israel Women’s Network and city council member Noga Sharon.

The Afula municipality said in response: “Of 360 summer events, the [municipality] sought to produce an event for the ultra-Orthodox public to celebrate and enjoy in accordance with its customs. It’s unfortunate that this won’t be possible. We will respect the court’s decision.” After the court’s ruling was issued, the municipality announced that the singer who had been scheduled to appear at the event, Motty Steinmetz, had canceled his appearance.

A large number of ultra-Orthodox women attended Sunday’s district court hearing on the case in response to a public appeal made Saturday for women residents of Afula, a city in the north, to come to court to protest the petition

The lawyers for the Israel Women’s Network issued a statement welcoming Sunday’s court decision, which they said “unequivocally established that there cannot be any agreement to gender separation in the public square. Separate is never equal.”

Revital Hovel and Josh Breiner contributed to this report.