Tel Aviv Allowing Women-only Film Screening Despite City Pledge to End Gender Segregation

The ultra-Orthodox filmmakers screening their movie 'Trapped in Iran' have asked the Tel Aviv municipality to limit the event at the community center to women only, which the city has allowed

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צילום מלמעלה של קהל בכיכר שחצוי בחומת ברזנט
An ultra-Orthodox event at Kikar Rabin in 2018.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Or Kashti
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The Tel Aviv municipality is limiting a public film screening solely to women on Wednesday based on religious considerations after pledging last year not to permit “gender segregation between women and men at events in public space.”

The municipality has recently publicized the showing of the film “Trapped in Iran” at a community center in the Neveh Ofer neighborhood of southern Tel Aviv as “for women and girls only.”

The event appears to run counter to a pledge that the city made about a year ago not to permit “gender segregation between women and men at events in public space.” The city said in response that there is nothing improper “in substance or in law” in holding an event for only women and teenage girls. Nevertheless, senior city officials privately said that the arrangements for the event were a mistake.

The film tells the story of three Jewish women who worked at the American embassy in Tehran, where members of the Jewish community were hiding during Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. According to ultra-Orthodox filmmakers Chana Rubinstein Steinhaus and Chaya Morgenstern, the film it is based on a true story.

When asked by Haaretz about the event, the municipality said that female residents of the neighborhood were the ones to request that it be held as a women’s only event. “[Gender] separated events are rarely held in the city,” the municipality said, “and only in cases meeting the criteria of the attorney general’s opinion.” It was not possible to obtain a response for his article from Steinhaus, the film’s director.

The municipality declined to provide those criteria, which apparently are those established in 2019 by then-Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit permitting local governments to hold gender-segregated entertainment and leisure events on certain conditions.

The terms include consideration of the target audience and nature of the event and whether the gender segregation is essential and voluntary and whether there are segments of the population that would be harmed by it.

About a year ago, in response to an inquiry from the group Israel Hofshit, which advocates for policy change on issues of religion and state in Israel, the Tel Aviv municipality said that it does not permit gender segregation at events taking place with its approval – in accordance with “a reasoned [legal] opinion from the attorney general.”

At the time, the municipality said that “by law, the public space must be accessible and open to everyone” and added: “We will not permit a situation in which people are denied access to a portion of the public space.” Following the scheduling of the film in Neveh Ofer, Israel Hofshit asked that the gender limitation at the event be lifted.

Privately, Tel Aviv city officials said that if an event barred Arabs or Jews from attending, it would clearly be improper, but when it is limited to women, it is accepted with understanding. Another official said, however, that if the showing of the film were not in a women-only setting, women in the Neveh Ofer neighborhood would not attend.

For his part, Deputy Mayor Reuven Ladijanski, said: “As a municipality that espouses liberal values and [values of] equality, events must not take place with general segregation at municipal facilities. Men and women can and need to sit together at the same time in a movie theater.”

Up to now, when such events have come to public attention, and sometimes even legal scrutiny, the argument in support has been that it was required by the nature of the event – for example, to avoid the prohibition in some Orthodox Jewish religious circles of having men hear women sing or where members of the ultra-Orthodox community would feel uncomfortable.

It is also invoked in some educational contexts, primarily based on the contention that gender separation is required to integrate members of the ultra-Orthodox community into work settings and professional training.

In recent weeks, the film was played in various communities around Israel at events limited to women, with some of those showings having also received local government support.

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