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Gender segregation still OK on Israeli buses, with caveats

JTA

January 6, 2011 | 10:26 am

Gender segregation on Israeli public buses may continue as long as passengers agree, the country’s Supreme Court ruled.

The practice will still be allowed on dozens of bus lines serving the haredi Orthodox community, known as Mehadrin lines, as long as passengers are not coerced and no violence erupts, according to the ruling issued Thursday.

The finding adopted recommendations made last year by a Transportation Ministry committee which found that the Mehadrin lines should be allowed as long as the segregation was voluntary and women were not forced to sit in the back of the bus, Haaretz reported. The state had accepted the finding.

The legal opinion was in response to a lawsuit filed in 2007 by a group of women and the Israel Religious Action Center, an organization of Israel’s Reform, or Progressive, movement.

“A public transportation operator, like any other person, does not have the right to order, request or tell women where they may sit simply because they are women,” Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein wrote in his ruling. “They must sit wherever they like.

“As I now read over these lines emphasizing this, I am astounded that there was even a need to write them in the year 2010,” he added. “Have the days of Rosa Parks, the African-American woman who collapsed the racist segregation on an Alabama bus in 1955, returned?”

The judges ordered the Egged bus company to institute the new rules during a 30-day trial period, during which time the Transportation Ministry must hold undercover and open inspections to ensure that the rules are being followed. The company also must establish complaint centers for women passengers, according to the ruling.

Women’s groups and the Israel Religious Action Center told reporters that they were pleased with the decision, which they said shows that the court endorses the idea that segregation is illegal.

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