A 13-year-old girl said she was barred from boarding a bus in northern Israel because of how she was dressed, in violation of transportation regulations.
Tamara Lahav, who lives in Kibbutz Maabarot, said the bus driver told her that the way she was dressed constituted "sexual harassment." She was wearing a cropped shirt and shorts.
The Kavim bus company said the driver and regional manager would be summoned for an internal hearing.
Lahav was waiting for a bus on Friday at the Binyamina Junction in the north. When a number 9 bus arrived, the driver opened the door and asked Lahav if she had “something to cover up with." Lahav said she was surprised by the question and said no. After making another comment, the driver closed the door and drove off.
Lahav, who planned to go to the mall in Binyamina, stayed at the bus stop. “I was in shock, I didn’t really understand what happened. After that I regretted that I didn’t confront the driver. I don’t think that boys would have received the same treatment.”
Yael, Lahav’s mother, filed a complaint against the driver with the national authority for public transportation. “The driver’s actions in public space are a violation of the basic rights that everyone has and above all, a violation of human dignity. We are raising Tamara to be part of an equal society: The driver wouldn't have commented on how a man or boy dresses, so there is no reason that he should do so for a woman or girl,” said Yael.
“It took me a while to understand the situation,” said Tamara. She said it made her upset she wasn't allowed on a bus because of the driver's "chauvinistic views.”
- Israel's Health Ministry Stalls Release of New Procedure on Sexual Harassment
- Hundreds of Sexual Assault Cases in Israel Closed Without Trial in 2020
- A Bus Ride With the ultra-Orthodox Can Give Israeli Women PTSD
A Transportation Ministry official told Haaretz that drivers are not allowed to refuse transportation to passengers because of the way they are dressed. He expects the public transportation authority will examine the incident.
Kavim, which operates the bus route, began looking into the complaint on Sunday. If found to have violated transport regulations, the bus driver will face disciplinary action, the company said.
"The company instructs and trains the drivers to allow every passenger, men and women, to use its services and board the bus for travel without distinction, and regardless of their clothing,” said Kavim.
The Secular Forum, a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to act against religious radicalization and coercion, said in response to the incident that “the link between ‘modesty’ and the way women, teenage girls and children dress is a religious idea, which is meant to constrain women and make them disappear. This is another reason that the public space must be free of religious coercion, for the good of all of us.”
In October 2021, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court awarded 150,000 shekels in compensation to Mor Simchi, then 18, who was denied the right to board an Egged Ta’avura bus in October 2018 because she was wearing shorts, which he said looked like underwear.
The driver “discriminated against her because of her beliefs and liberal lifestyle, as evidenced by her dress,” Judge Kohava Levy ruled, adding that the refusal constituted “gross contempt and humiliation.”
Levy stressed that “inappropriate clothing” – in the view of the driver or the other passengers – isn’t grounds for refusing to let someone board the bus, and that a driver has no business expressing his opinion of any passenger’s clothing. She also concluded that he was guilty of gender discrimination and sexual harassment, since one of the legal definitions of sexual harassment is “degrading or humiliating treatment of any person with regard to his gender or sexual orientation.”
Egged said in its defense that “the values, beliefs and culture of Orthodox passengers should also be respected,” and that the remark about underwear was an attempt to describe her attire as immodest according to the Orthodox public, something which could have caused an uproar on the bus. But Egged also said the driver had exercised bad judgement, “by acting according to his and the passengers’ worldview.”