Legal Analysis / A Small Victory

The High Court of Justice made a small bit of history yesterday, with the consent of the state, the police and the Jerusalem activists who petitioned the court, when it ruled that a demonstration protesting discrimination against women can be held today in the capital's ultra-Orthodox Mea She'arim quarter.

The protest will be taking place on a day that observant Jews consider particularly holy: Hoshana Rabba, the final day of the Sukkot holiday. In their laconically phrased verdict the justices stressed the importance of "balancing the needs of both sides," meaning that demonstrators should also be respectful of the residents' sensibilities.

Nevertheless, the ruling makes it clear that Mea She'arim is an inseparable part of the Jewish and democratic State of Israel, despite the sign on its main street saying "No Zionists allowed." The demonstration will show that even in Mea She'arim, where numerous signs demand that women dress modestly, a Jewish and democratic state does not tolerate discrimination against women.

Former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak once described the court as a broken clock that starts ticking only if you hit it with a petition. Yesterday's ruling could never have been issued had the activists not petitioned the court against the police's initial refusal to let them demonstrate inside Mea She'arim.

With the petition in hand, however, the court was able to press the state to allow the demonstration, with certain restrictions, in order to avert a ruling that might go against it. And the state acquiesced.

The state also pledged that it would no longer allow Mea She'arim residents to segregate male and female visitors to their quarter by making them walk on different parts of the street - the practice that prompted the planned demonstration.