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High Court okays gender-segregated ultra-Orthodox college programs

But top legal body also rules that higher education programs catering to Haredi men cannot discriminate against female lecturers and bars segregation outside classrooms

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox men study toward professional degrees at Kemach, a Jerusalem-based organization that guides Haredim through study programs and job placement. (photo credit: Kemach/JTA)
Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox men study toward professional degrees at Kemach, a Jerusalem-based organization that guides Haredim through study programs and job placement. (photo credit: Kemach/JTA)

The High Court of Justice on Monday upheld the Council for Higher Education’s policy of offering gender-segregated college courses in order to encourage the integration of ultra-Orthodox students.

Writing for the majority, Justice Hanan Melcer argued that he did not accept “the claim that any gender segregation in universities and colleges violates the fundamental right to equality.”

“Most students studying in gender-segregated tracks choose to do so out of their own free will, in accordance with their religious views that support gender segregation as a way of life,” he maintained.

“Even if there is a certain violation of equality in this arrangement, it is worth it for the purpose of integrating the ultra-Orthodox population into academia, and largely meets the tests of proportionality,” Melcer added.

The ruling did however accept a clause of the petition against the barring of female lecturers from teaching male-only courses, with the judges arguing that such a policy fails the test of proportionality and discriminates against female lecturers.

The court also ruled that the prohibition on segregation between men and women in public spaces on campuses must be enforced immediately.

Eleven justices of the High Court of Justice attend a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on May 3, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Pool)

Writing for minority, Justice Uzi Fogelman argued that the Council for Higher Education’s policy should be annulled as it “constitutes institutional authorization for segregation in academia and perpetuates a damaging attitude toward women and their role in society.”

He also argued that the council’s policy does not include a commitment to provide equal opportunities for men and women Haredi students, further violating the foundational right of equality.

The petition adjudicated in Monday’s ruling was filed in 2017 by a group of academics who oppose the Council for Higher Education’s policy for integrating Haredi students and demanded that the “unconstitutional” policy be shelved.

The Haredi-integration policy has been in place since 2012 and brewed controversy over the green-lighting of gender-segregated courses for the first time.

Reacting to Monday’s ruling Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) lauded the court for setting a “limit to gender segregation.”

“Although unfortunately, it has not abolished it completely,” she continued. “There will be no exclusion of female lecturers, there will be no gender segregation outside the classrooms and there will be no separation beyond the undergraduate degree. The alarming acceleration in separation has become the norm in recent years, and it is good that the High Court has set a limit.”

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