Israeli Judge Blocks Sex-segregated Training Program for ultra-Orthodox Tour Guides

The judge not only rejected the state’s position but also suggested that other segregated frameworks are discriminatory

A group of ultra-Orthodox men on an outing in the Kohav Hayarden national park, May 5, 2016.
Gil Eliahu

The Jerusalem District Court ruled Wednesday that a requirement for sex segregation in a state-funded course to train ultra-Orthodox tour guides constitutes “a priori discrimination.” The court ordered the state to put the course out to bid again, minus the demand for separate classes for men and women.

The court, ruling on a petition from the Israel Women’s Network, also said that the Tourism Ministry failed to prove the need for sex segregation.

The vocational program is part of a growing trend of sex segregation to satisfy the demands of Haredim.

Judge Oded Shaham not only rejected the state’s position that “access to Haredim” requires sex segregation, but also suggested that other segregated frameworks, such as academia or the Civil Service Cadet Program, are discriminatory.

The Tourism Ministry issued a call for bids for operating a tour-guide course for Haredim in August 2016.

The Israel Women’s Network asked the court to withdraw the demand for sex segregation, saying it constituted separation in “state-provided and -funded services, which shape the labor market and the social and professional networks of participants.”

The petitioners said the segregation clause infringes on the constitutional right to dignity and equality and violates anti-discrimination laws.

Shaham said that whenever the state wants an exemption from equality requirements, it must prove need. He said the Tourism Ministry did not examine the possibility of holding the course without sex segregation and that exclusive courses for ultra-Orthodox people could raise questions regarding equality.

Hagai Kalai, Liad Vertzhaizer and Miriam Zelkind, lawyers for the Israel Women’s Network, said after the ruling that “the separation of men from women and using sex as a criterion for allocating public resources are real discrimination. We hope that today’s ruling marks the beginning of a change in the state’s position in similar cases. The clear message that the court conveyed is that segregation is always discrimination.”

Israel Women’s Network’s CEO Michal Gera Margaliot said “the verdict makes it unequivocally clear that there is no place for state-sponsored gender segregation.”

Dr. Yofi Tirosh, head of the Sapir Academic College School of Law, said “the court cast doubt for the first time in the legality and wisdom of gender segregation. ... It is to be hoped this marks a change in the mistaken approach that one group can be discriminated against in favor of another.”