Bus driver blocks girl, 13, from boarding, says her clothing is ‘sexual harassment’

Kavim company is investigating incident after Tamara Lahav says driver would not allow her on with shorts and tank top

Israelis board a Kavim bus on the main street in the central city of Petah Tikva, June 24, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israelis board a Kavim bus on the main street in the central city of Petah Tikva, June 24, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

A 13-year-old girl was blocked from boarding a bus in central Israel after the driver reportedly told her that what she was wearing was considered by law to constitute “sexual harassment.”

According to the Haaretz daily, the incident took place on Friday. Tamara Lahav, 13, was waiting for the number 9 bus, operated by the Kavim company, that goes from Or Akiva to Binyamina-Givat Ada. On that warm June morning, she was wearing a pair of short pants and a tank top on her way to a nearby shopping center.

But when the bus arrived and Lahav was about to get on, the driver stopped her and asked her if she had “anything to cover yourself with,” the report said.

Surprised by the unexpected question, Lahav said she didn’t have anything. The driver did not let her board and drove off, leaving her behind.

“I was shocked,” she told Haaretz. “I couldn’t understand what was happening. I later regretted not confronting the driver. I don’t think boys would have been treated like that.”

She added: “It took me a while to understand the situation. It’s very upsetting. I think the driver didn’t let me on because of a chauvinistic approach.”

Illustrative: Secular Israelis board a gender-segregated bus where women sit in the back of the bus, and men in the front. The secular women sat among ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in the front, as part of a protest against the exclusion of women in the public sphere, on January 1, 2012. (Miriam Alster / Flash90)

After hearing what had happened, Lahav’s mother called the National Public Transport Authority and filed a complaint against the driver.

“His behavior in a public space constitutes a serious offense to basic rights we all have and especially to human dignity,” she said. “Tamara was raised learning the importance of complete equality. Nobody can tell her what to wear.”

Israeli law dictates that a bus driver is not allowed to discriminate against passengers due to their clothing.

The Kavim bus company said it would look into the incident and take disciplinary action against the driver if it turns out he violated company policy.

“The company instructs its drivers to allow any and every passenger to use its services and to get on the bus regardless of their appearance,” a statement issued by the company read.

Illustrative: “Kavim” bus drivers demonstrate against violence directed at them near the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 17, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that enforced gender segregation on public buses was illegal, leading to several years of heated struggle by ultra-Orthodox extremists to preserve gender segregation on bus lines serving their communities.

In the past, the Egged bus company operated controversial segregated buses known as “Mehadrin buses” on certain intracity routes that passed through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Public buses contain notices informing riders that any attempt to force other passengers to move from the seat of their choice is a criminal offense (with the exception of specified spots for the disabled).

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