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Israel Railways to compensate woman asked to leave her seat so men could pray

Religious Action Center wins discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Maya Melitz; train operators to stop asking women to move

Illustrative: Orthodox Jewish men wear prayer shawls during services on a train, on February 4, 2010. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Orthodox Jewish men wear prayer shawls during services on a train, on February 4, 2010. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

Israel Railways is to pay compensation to a woman who filed a gender discrimination lawsuit after she was asked by a rail worker to move from her seat because some men were holding a prayer service in her car.

The state-owned rail company agreed Sunday to the Jerusalem District Court’s suggestion that it pay Maya Melitz 16,000 NIS ($4,700) and also stop asking people to relocate so others can pray.

“What a joy to see justice,” Melitz wrote on Facebook.

Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, which helped file the lawsuit, called the outcome “an important ruling, and an additional step toward gender equality in the public domain.”

“Women are not a disruption, and we should be free to sit wherever we choose – on buses, airplanes, and trains,” Hoffman said in a Monday statement from the IRAC.

As part of the agreement, all Israel Railways employees or service providers are to be given clear instructions that they are forbidden from asking anyone to change seats, even for the sake of prayers.

“This means that no railcar can be commandeered and turned into a synagogue thereby barring other passengers, especially women, from sitting in that car,” the statement said.

The IRAC together with the Israel Women’s Network filed the lawsuit on behalf of Melitz after the 2018 incident when a rail worker demanded that she move seats. The lawsuit had demanded NIS 66,969 ($19,584) as a violation of the Prohibition Against Discrimination Act.

Orthodox commuters on Israel Railways trains frequently hold Jewish prayer services, complete with a mini-Torah scroll on some mornings.

At the time Meliz said she was “shocked by the request to move from my seat on the train.”

“The shock turned into offense that my presence, just because I am a woman, disrupted others from praying and that the only solution was that I would move,” she said. “Just a moment before, I was enjoying listening to the prayer itself while minding my own business, and then the railway employee tried to explain to me that my mere existence was harmful to someone else.”

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 had operated controversial segregated buses known as “Mehadrin buses” on certain intracity routes that pass 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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