Two recent events sponsored by local governments incorporated gender segregation, despite directives from state officials forbidding such practices in public spaces, according to a report Friday.
Ynet reported that men and women were separated on Jerusalem’s main King George Street during last week’s Jerusalem Day Flag March in the capital.
An usher was filmed by a passerby telling women they could not pass to “the men’s side.” Asked why she was not letting them through, she explained she had been instructed to keep the sexes apart as “girls are dancing here and boys are dancing there, so we don’t want them to mix.”
The current law forbids gender-based discrimination, though it does allow separation under certain extraordinary conditions such as in the case of a group with specific religious needs. However, such segregation has been forbidden by the attorney general’s office in state-sponsored events.
Two days later the Rehovot municipality organized a Jerusalem Day celebration in which a large barrier separated men and women during a musical performance.
One of the organizers of the Jerusalem parade, Yaakov Novik, told Ynet “We are religious people and we don’t have mixed dancing. We’re allowed to have a religious event in a public space.” He said ushers did not give orders but only “recommendations” and these pertained only to event participants, not general pedestrians.
The municipality said it had not sponsored “any gender segregation” in the public sphere.
Rehovot’s municipality said it organizes myriad events tailored for the needs of various city groups, and that as the event was intended for the religious sector the barrier was placed to meet its needs.
Earlier this week the Kan public broadcaster reported that during aborted coalition talks last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to an ultra-Orthodox demand to allow for gender segregation in public spaces.
A leaked draft of the Likud’s agreement with the Haredi United Torah Judaism party 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.”
The draft agreement also barred individuals from filing a civil suit against municipal organizers of such events on the grounds of gender discrimination.
Ultra-Orthodox groups have pressed in the past to have gender segregated events or facilities, like public transport, but the moves have been knocked down by the courts, which ruled it constituted discrimination.
Responding to the report, Likud issued a statement saying that the agreement on the matter had not been finalized and that Netanyahu had sought during the coalition talks to soften the demand of Shas, UTJ, and the Union of Right Wing parties on issues of religion and state.
The secular Yisrael Beytenu party, led by Avigdor Liberman, refused to join Netanyahu’s strongly religious coalition by last week’s deadline, initiating snap elections scheduled for September. The party stated that the recent Kan report provided further proof that the Likud leader “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,” the statement 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.