Knesset committee to vote on law allowing gender segregation in universities

University heads say they favor integrating ultra-Orthodox into academic institutions, but strongly oppose legislation

ILLUSTRATIVE -- Israeli students seen at the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University on the first day of the new academic year, October 30, 2011 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
ILLUSTRATIVE -- Israeli students seen at the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University on the first day of the new academic year, October 30, 2011 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A bill that would allow separate study tracks for men and women at Israeli universities will be voted on by a ministerial committee Sunday.

The legislation is being sponsored by Ya’akov Margi of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of the right-wing Jewish Home party.

“The bill is based on the recognition of the freedom of religion and conscience of students and members of the academic staff,” read the explanatory notes to the legislation.

Some ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups observe strict gender division in public spaces, with men and women being separated by physical barriers.

Many high school and elementary students within the religious streams of education learn in single-sex schools, but universities currently do not have gender segregation.

Illustrative photo of an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem yeshiva, August 16, 2018. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

The committee of university heads came out strongly against the proposed legislation, saying it is against “advancing any bill that is intended to create a barrier and separate students.”

The committee added that it sees great value in the integration of the ultra-Orthodox population into the higher education system.

“We call upon the legislators to stop at this stage any legislative initiative that harms the value of equality and the level of academic training of these groups,” the committee stated.

Earlier this year, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, The Israel Religious Action Center and The Israel Women’s Network issued a statement on two High Court petitions for gender segregation in academia, saying that “gender segregation for religious reasons violates the fundamental right of women to equality in Israel and contradicts the basic assumptions of a democratic regime.”

The Supreme Court has ruled against enforcing gender segregation on public buses.

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