Despite its strong secular traditions, Israel remains a nation with many laws and customs enforced to protect Jewish religious practices. Public buses have long been a danger zone for women who are targeted by ultra-orthodox Jews for wearing trousers or mixing with men. Women have been physically assaulted and are forced to sit in the back of the bus in religious areas. Now, the Israeli Supreme Court is faced with a filing by women who have refused to move to the back of the bus like Rosa Parks.
For many years, women have been physically attacked at the wailing wall when they have tried to pray with the men. Click here Orthodox men insist that women are forbidden even to carry a Torah scroll and cannot wear shawls.
On buses, the most extreme orthodox men have maintained a de facto segregation of women through insults and attacks.
Every time Israeli student Iris Yoffe takes the bus to Jerusalem, she has to be ready for abuse from ultra-Orthodox Jews who say she should be kept off because she’s wearing trousers.Assuming she makes it onto the bus at all — on several occasions groups of Orthodox men have tried to block the door — Yoffe, 24, heads for the “women’s section” at the back of the bus, keeps her head down and tries to ignore the insults.”I end up feeling helpless and humiliated, like an outsider,” said Yoffe, whose public bus from her home in northern Israel to Jerusalem has separate male and female seating because it runs through an ultra-Orthodox community.A row over Israel’s buses underscores the schism between its ultra-Orthodox minority — who believe women should don long skirts and stay away from men in public — and those who want to keep the country, and its public transport system, secular.The controversy started several years ago when, in order to compete with private firms, Israel’s publicly funded bus companies introduced separate seating on some routes through Orthodox areas. Women who board these buses sit at the back.In theory, wearing a skirt and sitting in the women’s section is voluntary, but several secular women including a well-known author have reported being abused and even attacked for not doing so. . . .Naomi Ragen, one of the women behind the High Court petition, said she was insulted and physically threatened when she accidentally boarded a mehadrin bus and refused to move to the back. Another woman was reported to have been spat at and beaten for refusing to move.Ragen, herself an Orthodox Jew, described the incidents on her website as “bullying women in the name of God”.
Clearly, this small minority of Orthodox men should not reflect on their entire community. However, there remains the issue of the tolerance of the state for such sectarian practices of intolerance. It is a civil rights battle that could test Israel’s commitment to secular principles and the separation of temple and state. Notably, the ultra-orthodox community remains a minority in Israel and these men must be a minority in that minority. However, the Israeli political system artificially inflates the power of religious parties — a flaw in their system that has produced years of uncertainty and unease. Israel is a country that would benefit from serious constitutional reform and, frankly, would benefit from a system more like the United States. I know that sounds rather biased. However, the Israeli system continually leaves the majority of citizens subject to the whim of parties with a handful of members in the Knesset. The bus controversy is just one such accommodation made to such extreme minorities. Regardless if it is an official policy, it is a known practice enforced by a small number of intolerant thugs against women — in full view of the government.
The solution seems simple. If men cannot tolerate the appearance of women in their midst, they should hire their own private buses or drive to work. Problem solved.
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