Editorial

Segregation Halted, for Now

The gender-segregated event at a municipal park in Afula, in northern Israel, on Wednesday, August 15, 2019.
Gil Eliahu

Wednesday’s ruling by the Nazareth District Court paves the way for the expansion of the scourge of gender segregation. With the encouragement of the Interior Ministry, many local councils will be happy to embrace the ruling by Judge Attif Ailabouni, whose meaning is loud and clear: Local authorities can enforce gender segregation.

As expected, in the wake of the cancellation of an earlier court ruling, Afula Mayor Avi Elkabetz declared the public performance would be held as planned, with total gender segregation. This is a black day for gender equality. Religious coercion is slowly but consistently gnawing away at public places through a cynical abuse of liberal and democratic values, in a struggle aimed at promoting a lifestyle that undermines these very values.

Significant support for this was given on Wednesday by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who said that there were “special circumstances” in which it was possible to hold gender-segregated events for the ultra-Orthodox public. This goes beyond the already permitted segregation associated with religious rituals, an exception anchored in government resolutions. Mendelblit’s declaration constitutes a change in the position of the Attorney General’s Office, effectively opening up the possibility of debating this issue again and potentially even expanding the application of gender segregation.

“In principle,” he wrote, “there could be circumstances in which a municipality holds a gender-segregated event for the Haredi public. Due to the importance of this issue and the basic questions associated with it, the attorney general intends to urgently hold a special session devoted to the subject, in order to lay out legal criteria and define the special circumstances under which events could be held in this way.”

Currently, no government ministry or public agency can organize a public event where men and women are separated. Mendelblit now wants to expand the clause defining events as religious ceremonies or rituals. The current policy comes after a debate held by an inter-ministerial committee during the tenure of the previous attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein.

There is a clear link between a segregated musical event, segregated sidewalks and segregated bus seating. A determined opposition to public events held with gender segregation grows out of the understanding that the separation of women means their removal from the public sphere. The public sphere belongs to the public, so no violation of civic equality may be permitted within it.

The High Court of Justice did well in its late-night decision to accept the petition from the Israel Women’s Network and overrule the Nazareth District Court. The justices halted the advance of gender segregation, for now.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.