In a throwback to 1950s America, Israel allows gender-based segregation on its public buses and looks the other way when women are violently abused for not sitting in the back of the bus.
Egged, Israel's state transport company, runs around 100 mehadrin (super-kosher) bus lines catering to haredi (ultra-orthodox) riders. In theory, gender segregation on these publicly-funded lines is voluntary. In practice? Women are verbally abused, publicly humiliated and sometimes even beaten if they don't "voluntarily" dress modestly, board and exit from the rear bus doors, and sit in the back of the bus.
In November 2006, American-Israeli Miriam Shear was brutally beaten, kicked, spat on, and shouted at by ultra-Orthodox men for refusing to give up her seat in the front of the bus. Shear had been riding the Egged No. 2 bus to pray at the Western Wall every morning, and had experienced several run-ins about her choice of seating before one haredi man decided to take action. He spat in her face and when she responded by refusing to stand up, he threw her down and began beating her. While Shear was being beaten, other riders yelled at her for being a stupid American and having no common sense.
The only witness who backed Shear's story (the bus driver denied Shear was beaten and Egged and other passengers stood behind his story) says that she was blocked from helping Shear by the other riders.
In the spring of 2007, writer and Orthodox Jew Naomi Ragen and five other Israeli women, backed by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), filed a petition with Israel's Supreme Court to demand an investigation into the mehadrin lines. The petition asks that the Israeli Ministry of Transportation research the demand for the lines, and ensure that even if there is proven demand for mehadrin lines, other non-segregated lines are also provided on the same routes and with the same frequency. The petition also asks that mehadrin buses be clearly marked and that enforcement of segregation be carried out by government officials, not haredi male riders.
Ultimately the decision comes down to -- you guessed it -- one man, the head of Israel's Ministry of Transport Yisrael Katz. Many speculate that Katz will capitulate to the right-wing parties currently in power in the government coalition, defending the need for segregated buses and the right of haredi to practice their version of Judaism.
Wait, you mean religion is being used as a way to subjugate and humiliate women? Am I the only one who sees some grimly ironic comparisons here with other deeply religious countries that also have a penchant for keeping women silent and segregated? Apparently not: Ragen has alluded to being "under the purview of the Taliban" and claims Katz shouldn't "allow Israel to become Iran."
Ultra-orthodox newspaper editor Israel Eichler, meanwhile, coughed up some familiar right-wing rhetoric about the threatening and demoralizing imposition of "Western secular culture." Certainly sounds a lot like the typical line from Tehran to me. Katz's decision comes this month -- here's to hoping that Israel doesn't fall into the familiar trap of confusing religion and "morality" with the forced oppression of women.
Obviously not a Professional News Article, but I just saw it and figured it merited posting. I generally keep my nose out of internal Israeli politics because that's an immediate cause for fighting with my conservative father, but, as I recall, Israel is in the middle of a rather conservative backswing, and women are always the ones who bear the brunt when that happens. Not to mention the power Orthodox Jews have in Israel. Messy. Thoughts, ontd_p?