Sunday, December 18, 2011

Women segregation sparks political debate - PM Netanyahu: Exclusion of women in public spaces threatens fabric of Israeli society

A ongoing public debate over the Ultra-Orthodox segregation between men and women and the separation on buses passing by Jewish neighborhoods, exploded over the weekend following an incident in which a young woman was told to sit in the back of a bus driving from Ashdod to Jerusalem due to haredi protest.

The incident happened on Friday when Tanya Rosenblit, 28, was on Egged bus 451. "I dressed modestly and tried to keep a low profile, but I could tell something strange was going on," she told Yedioth Ahronoth.

"I could tell that the other passengers were looking at me with disdain. One of them yelled 'Shiksa' at me and demanded I move to the back of the bus, because Jewish men can't sit behind a woman."

Rosenblit refused. "I wasn't causing any provocation. It's a normal bus and anyone can ride it. I bought my ticket, just like they did and they have no right to tell me where to sit."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that fringe groups should not take apart "our common denominator." Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting he said, "We must maintain the public sphere as an open and safe place for all Israeli citizens."
"Israeli society is a mosaic composed of Jews and Arabs, secular and ultra-orthodox, and until today we have agreed on peaceful coexistence and mutual respect among all sectors. Recently, we have witnessed numerous attempts to unravel this coexistence. For example, today I heard about a case of moving a woman on a bus. I strongly oppose this. I think that marginal groups cannot be allowed to dismantle our common denominator and we must maintain the public space as an open and safe for all Israelis. We need to look for what unites and bridges, not what divides and separates, and this is how we will act."
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz echoed the sentiment: "Women's exclusion is unforgivable. It will not happen in the State of Israel and I'm sure the haredim will learn to live with that," he said.

Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger on Sunday responded harshly to the ultra-Orthodox demand to operate "kosher" bus lines in haredi neighborhoods, saying that the haredi public had not right to impose its opinion on the rest of the population.

"We can't be the world's landlords. This isn't the haredi public's country," the chief rabbi said in an interview to Kol Barama Radio. "We have no authority to impose our opinion on others. This is a public place."
"if we want separation, setting up a special bus company for certain lines is legitimate, and then we'll be the landlords.

"But as long as they pay like we do, and it’s a public company which doesn't only serve the haredi public – what can we do?