By Carol Ann Goldstein
SAN DIEGO— I recently received an email from the New Israel Fund and was shocked by the subject line: “Don’t allow discrimination against women in Israel to become government policy”.
I was remembering hearing about the segregation policies of sections of the US that discriminated against African Americans by requiring them to enter through the back door and sit in the back of the bus. I could not believe that Israel has been forcing women to be segregated on busses for more than two years and is considering making this practice government policy. Is this the Israel that claims to be a democracy, a land of equality for all its residents and a firm believer in human rights for all?
I hear so much from Jewish individuals and Jewish groups complaining about the treatment of women in Islam the religion and in Islamic countries. I cannot believe the hypocrisy of Isreal and these Jewish individuals and Jewish groups. I do not want my tax dollars supporting such horrible policies.
Say No to the Back of the Bus
The following is the text of the email from the New Israel Fund:
New Israel Fund November 30, 2009
“Don’t allow discrimination against women in Israel to become government policy
In less than a month, the Israeli Minister of Transportation will make a decision that will either advance equality and pluralism in Israel, or set an official government policy of discrimination against women.
At the urging of some leaders of the ultra-Orthodox community, the government-funded bus service Egged has been running public buses that require women to enter through the back door and sit in the back of the bus. Women who object have been attacked verbally and physically. The New Israel Fund family has been fighting this appalling segregation for more than two years. With the High Court forcing the Transportation Ministry to make a policy decision, the time to act is now.
Send a message to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and tell him women do not belong in the back of the bus.
Jewish law has never required segregation of men and women in public places, but the power of the ultra-Orthodox hierarchy in Israel, and the powerlessness of women in the ultra-Orthodox community means that the voices of those who support an egalitarian, tolerant and pluralistic Israel need our help to be heard.
What You Need to Know
• Israel’s High Court of Justice has given Transport Minister Israel Katz (Likud) until December 27 to present his position on gender- segregated bus lines. The order followed a report by a special committee set up by the Ministry of Transport, which ruled that these bus lines are illegal because they humiliate and discriminate against women passengers.
• The Ministry of Transport committee was set up following a petition in 2007 by veteran New Israel Fund grantee Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) for Progressive Judaism (Reform) and novelist Naomi Ragen against the gender-segregated bus lines. The court ordered the committee to consider, rule on and regulate the matter.
• More than ten years ago, the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) community asked Israel’s public bus company, Egged, to provide segregated busses in their neighborhoods. By early 2009 more than 55 such lines were operating around Israel. Typically, women are required to enter through the bus back doors and sit in the back of the bus, as well as “dress modestly.”
• Some buses operate in or through mixed neighborhoods and are the only buses running on particular routes. In Jerusalem, the segregated buses actually charge lower fares than ordinary Egged busses. Women who refuse to sit in the back of the bus are frequently threatened verbally and physically by haredi men who “enforce” the segregation system.
• In October, the special Ministry of Transport committee recommended a year-long trial in which men and women could choose to enter the buses by separate doors and sit separately, but stressed that all seating on public buses must be voluntarily and no coercion must be used. The committee further stressed that there is no separate, publicly-run bus system for haredi communities, and every member of the public has the right to use buses in accordance with basic human rights and the principle of equality.
• Many Israelis fear that the right-wing governing coalition, which includes all but one of the major religious parties, will pressure the Minister into rejecting the committee report and supporting the continuation of segregated and discriminatory public transportation.”
Goldstein is a freelance writer, web designer and math tutor in San Diego.