Fearing Haredi Ire, Knesset Choir Excludes Women Singers at Brown Session

Official: Decision made in order to accommodate all MKs; national anthem sung by all-male choir.

A senior Knesset official on Monday said fear of offending ultra-Orthodox MKs led the institution to exclude women singers from the parliamentary choir at a special session in honor of visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown earlier in the day.

Two-thirds of the Knesset choir, headed by MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union-National Religious Party Chairman), were missing when the national anthem Hatikva was performed at the afternoon session.

Director-general of the Knesset, Avi Balashnikov, told Haaretz that the decision to leave out the female members of the choir was made in order to accommodate all MKs.

"I am the director-general of all MKs, and I don't have any wish to cause situations that would make MKs get up and leave," Balashnikov said."Even though there are only a few Haredi MKs, we think of everybody...This can be seen in the fact that the Knesset kiosk is strictly kosher."

At previous special sittings of the Knesset organized in the last few months in honor of U.S President George Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nikolas Sarkozy, the national anthem was sung by a children's choir, which included females.

Balashnikov said Knesset policy is to use choirs of children of both genders aged under 13, or to bring in older, all-male choirs.