A television network on Sunday broadcast footage showing a woman being denied entry to a public bus in Ashdod because Haredi men on board insisted it was only for men.
In the video, the woman tried to board a bus on the number 80 line operated by the Electra Afikim company.
“Only for men,” a man can be heard saying as the woman is stopped at the front door of the bus.
“Go by foot or take another line,” the driver advises her.
When challenged by the driver that she has the right to board, he responded: “What can I say? It is not my issue.”
The network did not identify the woman or explain why she was carrying a hidden camera to record the incident. A similar occurrence took place on the same bus line last week.
Under Israeli law, gender segregation is illegal in public spaces, including on transportation. Orthodox parties have long demanded legislation that would permit gender segregation at publicly funded events.
By way of explanation, Electra Afikim said drivers sometimes bar women from buses to prevent them from being attacked by Haredi passengers, but said that it will stamp out the phenomenon.
Last week a 17-year-old girl in Ashdod was denied access to a number 80 bus she wanted to ride home, the local Ashdodi news website reported at the time.
The girl and another woman tried to board the bus along with a man, but only the latter was permitted to enter, while they were told by the driver the bus was for men only.
The Ashdodi website inquired at the Electra Afikim information booth in Ashdod’s central bus station about the number 80 bus, but workers there insisted that there is no such line operating in the city, even though the route showed up on Electra Afikim’s own information site.
After further inquiries, Electra Afikim told Ashdodi that the line had been specially coordinated by a senior official in the company on behalf of Haredi yeshiva students, and that it was a “private line” for men only.
As a public transportation service, the bus line cannot legally refuse passage to women.
According to Channel 12, there have been similar incidents on other routes in Ashdod, the fifth largest city in the country and one that has seen its Haredi population grow rapidly in recent years. Women have also been denied entry to buses on lines 74 and 79, the report said.
The network also reported that a few meters from the bus stop where the woman was denied entry, the faces of women and girls on a large poster were vandalized. The destruction of images of women in public spaces is another tactic embraced by some Haredi activists.
Attorney Gili Zinger, deputy CEO of Israel Women’s Network rights group, told Channel 12 that incidents of discrimination against women on buses in Ashdod are “part of a phenomenon that is becoming more extreme and expanding every day.”
“These are things that did not happen before. It should be understood that this is against the law, it is also a criminal offense,” she stressed.
Electra Afikim responded to the Channel 12 report in a statement saying “the company is against the exclusion of women, and following the incident the driver was summoned for a talk, and instructions were clarified among all the drivers.”
The company said that when bus passengers act against the women, “the driver, out of fear for their [the women’s] safety, sometimes offers another alternative.”
It said drivers have now been instructed that when faced with a similar dilemma, they should stop the bus and call the police.
The Transportation Ministry said in a response that “any kind of discrimination against passengers on public transport is forbidden.”
The ministry added it will instruct public transportation companies to be diligent in following regulations and “will take serious action on any report is receives on the matter.”