Gender Segregation in Secular Public Spaces in Israel

Israel was founded as a democratic state upon principles of liberty, justice, and the equal rights of all its citizens. The values of freedom and human rights reflect the essence of Israeli society and undergird the strength and resilience of the Israeli people. Israel’s Declaration of Independence provides that Israel will “uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed, or sex.” 

Recent events have shown that attempts to enforce gender segregation in public, secular spaces under the banner of Jewish law have increased in Israel. Over the course of the past decade, it has become an increasingly common practice to force women to sit in the back on some public buses. Women who have resisted these practices have been subjected to abuse. 

After extensive advocacy from many groups, a committee appointed by the Israeli Transportation Ministry to study and make recommendations regarding gender segregation on public bus lines issued a report in October, 2009. One of the findings of the committee was that every woman had the right to enter and sit on a public bus wherever she chooses. The Israeli Supreme Court has declared the practice of forced gender segregation on public buses to be illegal. Despite this ruling and the Israeli government’s position, women who have refused to comply with commands to move to the back of buses continue to report incidents of abuse and physical violence. The number of bus lines that force women to the back of the bus has grown. This gender-based discrimination extends beyond segregation on public buses. Certain sidewalks, streets, public buildings, and other shared public spaces have also been segregated in Israel.

Rabbis and organizations in Israel and the United States, including leading Orthodox rabbis and institutions, have joined in condemning both forced gender segregation in public, secular places, as well as the use of violence against women and children. They have stressed that nothing in the Jewish religious tradition condones such behavior.

The Jewish religious tradition and the Jewish advocacy world have long valued and supported carefully balanced efforts to afford people of diverse religious faiths and practices appropriate and legal accommodations of their religious practices. 

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs believes that:

  • Pursuant to our sense of justice, and in accordance with Jewish values, it is critical that the Jewish community speak out and take action in opposition to discriminatory acts and behavior that seek to enforce gender segregation in the public, secular sphere.
  • National and local governments, communities, and individuals, should commit to ending the practice of denying women equal access to buses, sidewalks, and other secular, public spaces.

The community relations field should:

  • Express steadfast opposition to forced gender segregation in public, secular places.
  • Advocate for effective enforcement of laws that forbid gender segregation in public secular spaces in Israel, including working with Israeli groups and directly communicating with members of Knesset and government officials.
  • Develop resources to advance awareness of this problem and action opportunities to help resolve it.