Israeli Professors Petition High Court Against Gender-separated University Classes

Lecturers call on High Court of Justice to make decision on recent attempts to integrate the ultra-Orthodox into higher education

Ultra-Orthodox students at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, in 2016.
Rami Shllush

Several senior professors petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice on Thursday against the Council of Higher Education’s plan to integrate ultra-Orthodox students into academia by opening more gender-segregated programs.

The petition follows the education council’s decision in May to continue the programs to allow students from the religious-Zionist community to attend the ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) programs, and to allow the opening of segregated classrooms for men and women on university campuses until 2022.

The petitioners want the decision on gender separation to be decided by the court.

The petitioners said about 20 higher education institutions offer study programs with gender-separated classrooms for Haredi students. Women are generally banned from teaching male students in these programs.

“These formats have gone from irregular to mainstream, and have even become the CHE’s default model for encouraging higher education in the Haredi community,” the petitioners wrote. Thousands of students are channeled to them annually even though they are illegal, the petitioners argued.

Out of a desire to integrate Haredim into higher education, “The notion that men hearing a woman’s voice is a breach of chastity has become acceptable in Israeli academia,” the petitioners added.

The education council has no legal authority to approve gender segregation in campuses, nor to exclude women lecturers or limit their work because of their gender, they said. They called on the court to make it clear that “when it comes to higher education, separate is not equal.”

Dr. Yofi Tirosh, the lead petitioner and a senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University Law School, said the steps the council is taking will essentially create a parallel higher education system with gender separation. The education council’s decision spurred protests in academia. Earlier this week, 600 graduate students signed a petition stating that they would refuse to teach in any gender-separate program.