Court overturns ban on separate gender seating at Afula concert

Court overturns ban on separate gender seating at Afula concert

Judge recommends compromise in which amphitheater be split in three for Wednesday’s event, with a woman’s section above a men’s section, as well as a mixed area; mayor rejects idea

The auditorium in Afula divided by a white partition ahead of the planned concert on August 14, 2019 (Screencapture/Channel 12)
The auditorium in Afula divided by a white partition ahead of the planned concert on August 14, 2019 (Screencapture/Channel 12)

The Nazareth District Court ruled to allow the Afula municipality to hold a gender-segregated concert Wednesday evening, accepting an appeal against a controversial decision it made just days earlier barring the northern city from putting on such an event.

The concert is to be the only one of over 300 events put on by the city over the summer to have segregated seating as it was aimed at the local ultra-Orthodox population.

As part of his Wednesday ruling, Judge Atef Eilabouni recommended that the municipality agree to a compromise in which the amphitheater be split in three for the concert, with a woman’s section above a men’s section as well as a mixed-gender area.

However, shortly after the ruling was handed down, Afula mayor Avi Alkabetz announced that the concert would be held with full gender segregation.

Just four days earlier, the same court ruled to accept the petition of the Israel Women’s Network, barring the municipality from holding a gender-segregated event, saying it contravenes the principle of equality.

Jewish women seen at the women’s section in the synagogue of the Knesset, on November 14, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The ruling sparked widespread outcry from right-wing lawmakers, particularly Haredi ones, who claimed that the court was preventing ultra-Orthodox Israelis from maintaining religious modesty customs.

The Shas party, which had successfully petitioned for a rehearing following the Sunday district court ruling, released a statement on Wednesday praising the latest decision.

“Common sense prevailed in court today,” the party said. “We fought and succeeded in ensuring that every person can live according to his or her faith and way of life, without any coercion.”

The Israel Women’s Network said it planned to appeal the latest ruling.

Earlier Wednesday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit waded into the debate on public financing of gender-segregated events for the religious community, issuing a statement saying that they may be legally permissible under “special circumstances.”

In his letter, Mandelblit said he intends to hold an urgent meeting “in order to outline the legal standards and special circumstances in which such events may be held.”

He added, however, that “segregation between men and women in the public sphere is a problematic practice that harms equality.”

While Mandelblit wrote that he did not have cause to intervene in the current case, he did state that “in principle, there may be special circumstances in which a local authority may hold a separation event for the ultra-Orthodox public.”

During failed coalition talks earlier this year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reported to have agreed to an ultra-Orthodox demand to allow for gender segregation in public spaces.

A leaked draft of Likud’s agreement with the Haredi United Torah Judaism party stated that “within 90 days the government will amend the law in such a way that it will be permissible to provide public services, public study sessions and public events in which men and women are separated. This separation will not constitute discrimination according to the law.”

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