Judge shuts down men-only concert in Haifa

Judge shuts down men-only concert in Haifa

Decision comes following uproar over gender-segregated performance in Afula, publishing of new guidelines by attorney general

Ultra-Orthodox singer Motty Steinmetz performs in Tzfat, April 22, 2019. Two of the singer's recent shows have ignited controversy for being gender-segregated. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox singer Motty Steinmetz performs in Tzfat, April 22, 2019. Two of the singer's recent shows have ignited controversy for being gender-segregated. (David Cohen/Flash90)

A Haifa district court on Sunday ordered the cancellation of a show with a male-only audience in the city, saying there was no reason for a gender-segregated event.

The performance by ultra-Orthodox singers Mordechai Ben David and Motty Steinmetz was to be held Monday with funding from the Haifa municipality.

“When closing doors of an auditorium to women, there needs to be a legal and factual basis for the decision,” Judge Avraham Elikim said in his decision. “Such a basis was not presented by the municipality.”

Elikim said the municipality needed to refer to guidelines on gender separation for public events published by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday.

The decision came in response to a petition filed by a women’s rights lobbying group against the municipality and the performers who were scheduled to sing at the show.

“The ultra-Orthodox public in Haifa is entitled to funding for cultural activities like every other public group, but when it comes to public money, there is a need to act in accordance with instructions from the attorney general and the government. It’s important to remember that in regards to the entrance to public places, there is a law that forbids discrimination in products, services and entrances to entertainment venues and public areas,” Elikim said.

Around 1,300 tickets had been sold for the show at the city’s International Convention Center out of 2,000 available seats, the Ynet news site reported.

The city’s deputy mayor, Micky Elfer, said in a response to the ruling that it did not “deal with the exclusion of women, but [is] an attempt to exclude the ultra-Orthodox public from what it deserves according to the law. We are currently considering other ways to hold the event.”

The decision comes after a gender-segregated concert earlier this month at a public park in Afula, also starring singer Steinmetz, forced the controversial arrangement into Israel’s headlines.

Ultra Orthodox Jews attend a gender-segregated concert in Afula, August 14, 2019. (Vaknin/Flash90)

The High Court barred the August 14 performance, but the ruling came too late to stop the event from going ahead.

The High Court ruling on the Afula concert sparked a widespread outcry from right-wing lawmakers, particularly ultra-Orthodox ones, who claimed that the court was preventing Haredi Israelis from maintaining religious modesty customs. Those opposing the concert argued that segregating women is a form of discrimination and therefore illegal in public places.

Mandelblit on Thursday said that local authorities could organize gender-segregated cultural events under certain circumstances.

Mandelblit published guidelines for authorities saying that gender-segregation could be permissible if the separation were voluntary and desired by the target audience, men and women had equal conditions, and separation did not unduly impact those opposed to it.

“The greater the voluntary component, the less the difficulty in gender segregation, and when it comes to a completely voluntary segregation in which every person chooses his place without being directed, there is no difficulty,” Mandelblit said.

In his Thursday statement, Mandelblit stressed that his starting point was upholding individual freedom and equality.

His guidelines included the conditions that local authorities should take into consideration when deciding on whether to allow for a gender-segregated event.

Authorities should consider the target audience for the event and whether a significant part of that audience would not attend without planned segregation, and the impact that segregation would have on those who were opposed to it. The target audience for a gender-segregated event should not be children and families, but adults, the statement said.

“This is an interim position that will take place until a fundamental and comprehensive legal discussion is held,” Mandelblit noted.

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