The recreational activities for the Haredi and religious communities slated to be held this summer with funding from the Tel Aviv Municipality are a mistake that Mayor Ron Huldai must correct quickly. Gender-separated plays, performances and activities, where entrance is banned for children of the opposite sex starting at age 3, are a worrying stage in the distorted standards on gender differences, even in places where they have no relevance. Such separation serves as justification for excluding and discriminating against women, both Haredi and secular.
Last week, Haaretz reported about the municipality’s intent to screen a movie only for women in a community center. It turns out that the movie was just part of a long series of gender-separated activities and events – from “plays for the entire family” on different dates for each gender, to limiting entrance to “a relaxing day at the pool with a movie” for “unmarried women from age 12.” As part of the summer programming, the city is also offering fitness and capoeira classes only for boys, and drama and animal therapy only for girls. (Ran Shimoni and Or Kashti, Haaretz, July 24)
Such across-the-board separation is illegal, say some legal officials. Tel Aviv city hall is holding to a lenient legal opinion, which the previous attorney general, Avichai Mendelblit, issued in 2019, and which allowed local governments under certain circumstances to hold leisure and entertainment events with gender separation. But at the same time they ignore Mendelblit’s argument that it would be very difficult to justify it for events intended for children or families.
In addition to the legal issue, treating 3-year-old girls as liable to corrupt men and boys participating in leisure activities is a dangerous reflection of an extremist trend that is only getting worse. Under Huldai’s auspices, the Tel Aviv Municipality is helping shape harsh norms of modesty and separation that will be taken for granted tomorrow. It may be assumed that their influence will not be limited to the Haredi community, because it is the nature of such influence to trickle down to other religious groups and affect the public space: in the army, academia, job market, nature reserves, and also on the bus whose driver refused to transport a young woman because he found her shorts too short.
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Tel Aviv city hall declared that it does not allow “separation between women and men at events in the public space.” In the past, Huldai took pride that “our city, where the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed, was always a pioneer in everything related to protecting human rights, equality, and gender equality in particular.” He said the opposition to separation is consistent “with the values of the State of Israel, which strives for equal rights while eradicating the grave practice of excluding women.”
Huldai must act according to these principles and order that the recreational events be held without gender separation. Cultural tolerance also has its limits: Gender equality is the appropriate limit for a democracy in general, and for a city that prides itself on liberalism in particular.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.