Israeli Justice Minister Asks: Why Not Segregate Libraries by Sex?

Ayelet Shaked said every local government should find a balance between making sure not to exclude women and preserving 'the freedom of a religious way of life' ■ Attorney general says 'there must be adjustments to show respect for ultra-Orthodox'

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in Be'er Sheva, November 29, 2017
Ilan Asayag

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said on Wednesday that he doesn’t approve of excluding women from public places and events and there was no change of policy on the issue. However, he added, “There must be adjustments to show respect for the ultra-Orthodox community.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked asked Mendelblit what was wrong with having gender-segregated public libraries on certain weekdays. The two spoke at a meeting with several MKs who were concerned that Mendelblit was planning to exclude women from more places and occasions.

After the meeting Shaked made it clear that she did not see a need to segregate libraries and her question was merely intended to understand the various positions on the issue.

The meeting was held following Haaretz’s report two months ago that Mendelblit was planning to loosen the government’s policy banning women’s exclusion from public events and institutions.

The MKs who attended Wednesday’s meeting – Ayelet Nahmias Verbin and Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), Shuli Moalem (Habayit Hayehudi) and Aida Touma-Suliman (Joint List) – raised examples of the increasing exclusion of women. Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber also attended the meeting.

At the opening to the meeting, Shaked said ultra-Orthodox politicians had complained that it was impossible to conduct a religious way of life. She said every local government should find a balance between making sure not to exclude women and preserving “the freedom of a religious way of life.”

“My view is live and let live. Of course women’s exclusion is forbidden. In places where it’s possible to provide a certain service it’s possible to do so. For example at entertainment events. Most should be mixed but one or two can be segregated,” Shaked reportedly said.

Mendelblit denied the report that he was changing anything. “As far as I’m concerned there’s no change of policy. This is a very complex issue. It’s a matter of balances. Clearly excluding women is wrong. The government stated that. It pertains to the most basic right to dignity. The question is of balance. There’s a large public that must be respected too. We’re looking for agreed solutions,” he said.

Azaria, who raised the issue of segregated public libraries in Jerusalem, said ultra-Orthodox women object to this, especially the divorced ones, as it prevented them from taking their children to the library.

“What’s the problem with having a day for men, a day for women and three mixed days?” Shaked reportedly asked in response.

Azaria said “in traditional society it’s very difficult. If your child goes to the mixed day it will affect him. Once there was segregation only at school, synagogue and the pool. Today even the driving course is segregated.”