After Afula gender-segregated show banned, women’s group turns to Haifa

After Afula gender-segregated show banned, women’s group turns to Haifa

In letter to mayor, Israel Women’s Network protests ‘illegal’ men-only August 28 concert of Hasidic performers, set to take place at city-owned convention center

Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch Rotem at the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv, February 27, 2019. (Flash90)
Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch Rotem at the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv, February 27, 2019. (Flash90)

A women’s rights group is calling on Haifa’s mayor to cancel a men’s-only concert for ultra-Orthodox residents in the northern city set to take place in late August.

In an “urgent” letter to Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch Rotem, the Israel Women’s Network said the August 26 concert involves “illegal” exclusion of women at an event facilitated by the municipality.

“The exclusion of women from the public space and discrimination against them in a public service are illegal actions that violate the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty,” the letter said.

They also “violate the principle of equality, and the 2000 law prohibiting discrimination in products, services and entry to public entertainment venues.”

The concert of Hasidic singers Mordechai Ben David and Motty Steinmetz will take place at Haifa’s International Convention Center, which is owned by the municipality, and is being supported by the city.

Haifa International Convention Center. (Wikipedia/Orderinchaos/CC BY-SA)

The appeal comes in the wake of a Sunday court ruling prohibiting the northern city of Afula to hold a gender-segregated concert for the local ultra-Orthodox community using public funds and at a public venue.

The Afula concert, also by Steinmetz, was slated to take place on August 14.

While Judge Jonathan Abraham said that individual attendees could decide on their own where to situate themselves at the event, he ordered security guards and ushers “to thwart any attempt [by organizers or members of the community] to place signs or barriers indicating segregation… and to intervene, with the assistance of police officers present, in the event of any attempt to segregate.”

That appeal was also brought by the Israel Women’s Network.

In their letter to Haifa’s mayor, IWN said it did not matter that “there is an audience that would prefer to hold the event without women…which is fundamentally against the law…. The principle of equality between the sexes and the prohibition on holding public events that exclude women overcome the preferences of one community or another.”

View of the Northern Israeli city of Afula, January 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party said Monday morning that it would appeal the Afula decision, but any appeal is unlikely to be heard before the event’s scheduled date.

The Sunday decision drew a frustrated rebuke from the Afula municipality.

In a statement, the municipality said, “Out of 360 summer events being held [in the city], the municipality had requested to put on one event for the ultra-Orthodox public to enjoy according to its customs. We are sorry that this was not possible. We will respect the court’s decision.”

The Haredi singer scheduled to perform at the event, Steinmetz, said that if the legal battle for gender separation fails, he will not perform.

The court decision also sparked widespread criticism on the religious right.

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich at a URWP party conference in Lod, July 22, 2019. (Flash90)

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the United Right on Sunday evening called Israel’s legal system “stupid” in light of the decision. “I apologize, but despite my position I can’t find a more refined word [to describe the ruling],” he tweeted.

Smotrich went on to accuse a “weak” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of showing “zero leadership” in the face of “judicial activism.”

MK Moshe Gafni of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party called the Nazareth court’s decision a “vicious one” that “will cause many people and teens not to attend the event.”

IWN director Michael Gera Margaliot praised the ruling, declaring that it marked “another significant step toward ensuring the status and right of women to be present and equal in any public space.”

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