Major Israeli City Defends 'Voluntary Gender Separation' at Male-only Public Event

Responding to a complaint by women’s rights group, Haifa says issue is moral, not legal

A gender-segregated event at a municipal park in Afula, in northern Israel, on Wednesday, August 15, 2019.
Gil Eliahu

Holding an event for men only is voluntary – not coerced – gender separation, said Haifa city hall on Tuesday, in response to a complaint about a concert scheduled for next week, advertised for “men only.”

The municipality added that the ultra-Orthodox community is excluded from a long list of public events and that it has therefore allocated a budget for gender-segregated cultural events catering to the city’s ultra-Orthodox community.

The complaint was submitted to Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem by the Israel Women’s Network. The organization claimed that separation in public events is illegal and that “the assumption that there is an audience that prefers to hold the event without women is not reason to hold the event.”

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Lawyer Yossi Dalal from the city’s legal department answered that the event meets the requirements of the law. He wrote: “This is not necessarily a legal issue, but more of a moral-religious issue as to the Haredi community’s right to live according to its culture, lifestyle, personal belief and religious obligation, which in practice allows the holding of cultural events for this community, with only two options: holding a [gender] separated event or holding separate events at the same time.”

Dalal added that the city is awaiting the legal opinion of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit on the matter. Mendelblit said he will consider the issue following a Supreme Court ruling last week that the city of Afula could not hold a gender-segregated public event.

Last week, Mendelblit filed an opinion in which he explained that, in special circumstances, municipalities can hold gender-segregated events for the ultra-Orthodox public. Mendelblit’s position hints at a possible broadening of permissions for holding events where men and women are separated, even surpassing those defined by government decisions on the subject.

In 2014, the cabinet passed a resolution called “Prevention of the Exclusion of Women from the Public Domain,” thereby adopting a comprehensive report on the issue. The resolution stated, “No government ministry or other public authority is permitted to organize a public event in which measures shall be taken to effect separation between men and women.”