Jerusalem — Back-of-the-bus seating for women on public transport in Israel will be outlawed soon, its justice minister said on Thursday, pledging sweeping legislation to stop Jewish religious zealots trying to enforce gender segregation in many spheres of life.
The issue is at the heart of a long and emotional struggle between Israel’s secular majority and an ultra-Orthodox Jewish minority over lifestyle in the Jewish state.
“Today, I instructed the Justice Ministry to draft legislation … that will make any segregation of women and their humiliation in a public space a criminal offence,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said on her Facebook page.
“Discrimination against women in public places, in public services, cannot be allowed,” Livni told Army Radio.
She made the announcement a day after Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein recommended outlawing any behaviour that stops women from receiving “public services with equal conditions”.
The separation of women and men on bus lines through religious neighbourhoods, and incidents in which Jewish zealots have spat at schoolgirls they deemed to be dressed immodestly, have raised public pressure on the government to act.
Now, with the power of ultra-Orthodox politicians diminished by their exclusion from Israel’s governing coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration could find it easier to win support for an anti-segregation law.
“Women in Israel won’t sit at the back of the bus. Women in Israel will participate in state ceremonies and their voices will be heard on radio stations and in the army,” Livni said.
She was referring to events at which religious politicians and soldiers, adhering to a traditional edict to avoid temptation, have walked out rather than watch women singing or dancing, and to an ultra-Orthodox radio station’s refusal to employ female announcers.