MK Yair Lapid on Tuesday slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after it was revealed that he had agreed during failed coalition talks last month to an ultra-Orthodox demand to allow for gender segregation in public spaces. Netanyahu, said Lapid, was turning Israel into Iran.
A draft of Likud’s agreement with the Haredi United Torah Judaism party, which was leaked Monday to the Kan public broadcaster, 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.”
Lapid, the number two in the Blue and White party and a long-time campaigner against religious coercion in Israel, said Netanyahu’s willingness to agree to such a condition was incomprehensible.
“The fact that Bibi surrendered to the demands of United Torah Judaism to introduce a law on segregating men and women in public spaces is nothing short of madness,” Lapid tweeted.
“The man who has been speaking out against Iran for 20 years now wants to import it,” he said, referring to Tehran’s strict Islamic theocracy.
According to the report, the draft agreement would also have barred individuals from filing civil suits against municipal organizers of segregated events on the grounds of gender discrimination.
Ultra-Orthodox groups have pressed in the past to have gender-segregated events or facilities, like public transportation, but the moves have been knocked down by the courts, which ruled it constitutes discrimination.
Responding to the report, the prime minister’s Likud party issued a statement saying the agreement on the matter had not been finalized and that Netanyahu had sought during the coalition talks to soften the demands of Shas, United Torah Judaism, and the Union of Right Wing parties on issues of religion and state.
Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, which refused to join Netanyahu’s coalition by last week’s deadline, a move that led to snap elections scheduled for September, said that the Kan report provided further proof that the Likud leader had “yielded to all the Haredi demands in the coalition negotiations.”
“The cancellation of the prohibition on gender segregation is another step in transforming the State of Israel into a halacha (religious law) state,” Yisrael Beytenu added.
The report came just hours after Netanyahu pushed back against comments by his hardline political ally and aspiring justice minister Bezalel Smotrich, who had called for the Israeli justice system to adhere to Jewish religious law.
“The State of Israel will not be a halacha [Jewish religious law] state,” Netanyahu tweeted, amid an uproar over Smotrich’s remarks.