Ultra-Orthodox party petitions against banning of gender-segregated concert

Shas points out that planned performance in Afula was for Haredi community, which prefers to separate men and women, calls decision ‘unreasonable’

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri leads a faction meeting of his Shas party at the Knesset on December 31, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/ Flash90)
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri leads a faction meeting of his Shas party at the Knesset on December 31, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/ Flash90)

An ultra-Orthodox party said Monday morning that it was filing a petition against a court ruling forcing the northern city of Afula to cancel gender segregation in a planned concert for the local ultra-Orthodox community.

The Nazareth District Court on Sunday barred the Afula municipality from seating men and women separately during the musical performance, planned for next week at a public park, saying it contravenes the principle of equality.

While Judge Jonathan Abraham said that individual attendees could decide on their own where to situate themselves at the event, he ordered security guards and ushers “to thwart any attempt [by organizers or members of the community] to place signs or barriers indicating segregation… and to intervene, with the assistance of police officers present, in the event of any attempt to segregate.”

In addition, Abraham ordered the Afula municipality to pay NIS 5,000 ($1,438) in damages to the petitioners from the Israel Women’s Network (IWN).

Responding to the ruling, the municipality said, “Out of 360 summer events being held this summer, the municipality had requested to put on one event for the ultra-Orthodox public to enjoy according to its customs. We are sorry that this was not possible. We will respect the court’s decision.”

A view of an Afula city street (photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash90)
A view of an Afula street (Shay Levy/Flash90)

The Shas party said Monday it was filing the petition with the district court against IWN, as well as against the Afula municipality for saying it would respect the court decision.

Shas called the ruling unreasonable and said it harms the ultra-Orthodox community’s right to hold cultural events according to its customs. It added that to enforce separate seating at the concert would not be coercive since the intended audience prefers segregated seating anyway.

The petition cited the fact that the ruling was given based on the municipality’s agreement to cancel the gender segregation, and called on the court to hold an urgent discussion or alternatively to refer the matter to the High Court of Justice.

The Haredi singer scheduled to perform at the event, Motty Steinmetz, said that if the legal battle for gender separation fails, he will not perform.

Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on June 24, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the United Right on Sunday evening called Israel’s legal system “stupid” in light of the decision. “I apologize, but despite my position I can’t find a more refined word [to describe the ruling],” he tweeted.

Smotrich went on to accuse a “weak” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of showing “zero leadership” in the face of “judicial activism.”

MK Moshe Gafni of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party called the Nazareth court’s decision a “vicious one” that “will cause many people and teens not to attend the event.”

IWN director Michael Gera Margaliot praised the ruling, declaring that it marked “another significant step toward ensuring the status and right of women to be present and equal in any public space.”

Last month, the Afula municipality made headlines over a policy barring non-residents from entering its public parks, which critics said was designed to keep Arabs from nearby towns out of the Jewish-majority city.

Following an uproar, the city agreed to change its policy at the recommendation of the Nazareth District Court, where the municipality was being sued over the discriminatory policy by the advocacy group Adalah. Before the judge handed down his ruling, Afula officials told the court the signs banning nonresidents would be removed.

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