Breaking News: The High Court of Justice today issued two rulings on gender-segregated buses. One is a temporary injunction prohibiting forced separation of men and women in public transportation. The other is conditional order instructing Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz to explain within 60 days why he will not act upon the recommendations of the committee that he appointed, which concluded that forced separation of men and women in public transportation is inappropriate.
Israel's High Court of Justice has heavily criticized Minister of Transportation Israel Katz for permitting gender segregated bus lines to continue operating, provided they are clearly marked and that the arrangement is "voluntary." Katz's decision contradicts a Ministry of Transportation committee report, which found that the lines are illegal because they humiliate and discriminate against women.
Katz's decision ignored the reality of "voluntary" segregated lines, given that women have frequently been threatened and harassed for refusing to sit in the back of the bus under previous so-called "voluntary arrangements".
In their review of Katz's decision, Justice Yoram Danziger sarcastically asked, "Would a sign that says 'no violence here' solve the problem?", while Justice Salim Joubran, an Israeli Arab explained that in his community men and women sat side by side on buses without problems and asked, "Where has tolerance gone?"
The High Court continues to discuss the petition first brought by veteran NIF grantee Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) of the Movement for progressive Judaism in Israel (Reform) and US-born novelist Naomi Ragen.
In response to Katz's decision to ignore his own committee's recommendations, IRAC Executive Director Anat Hoffman said, "I think the countdown started today about segregation as a religious expression in the Jewish state. It's a slippery slope. If signage makes it kosher, then next we are going to find segregated post offices and sidewalks."
IRAC has published a breakdown of the 58 gender segregated bus lines. The study found that on 25 routes, including Jerusalem to Petach Tikvah, Jerusalem to Beit Shemesh and even Haifa to Ashdod, travelers have no alternatives other than switching buses en route and paying substantially more.
As the judges deliberate, a coalition of organizations from the NIF family including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Secular Jews continues to raise public awareness about the growing phenomenon of gender segregation in public places.
A rabbinical opinion has been placed on posters throughout Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim quarter by NIF grantee Ne'emanei Torah Ve'Avoda, an Orthodox organization that promotes democratic values. The rabbinical ruling concludes that the bus lines are "not kosher, desecrate God and are an insult to the modesty of women."
At the same time, the newly established hotline by NIF grantee Kolech – Religious Women's Forum continues to collect evidence from women who have been abused and humiliated on gender segregated bus lines.
NIF's campaign against gender-segregation, which began in December, has included a special Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony by the Western Wall to protest gender segregation in the Kotel plaza, ads advertising the hotline on gender segregated buses, distribution of pamphlets about the hotline by Orthodox female students in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, and a protest including a "modesty patrol" near the Knesset building, where men and women were asked to walk on separate sidewalks to illustrate the growing trend towards gender segregation..
Consequently, more and more Israelis in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities are voicing opposition to the bus lines, while secular Israelis are beginning to mobilize against them.
A major demonstration by the NIF family is scheduled to take place outside of the Prime Minister's home on March 6.
To learn more about the issue of gender-segregation, please visit www.nif.org/bus.