High court nixes separate seating by gender, angering Orthodox Israelis

After first claiming victory, the ultra-Orthodox community warned that religious rights are being endangered by the top legal arbiter in the country.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israel’s High Court overturned a lower court ruling Wednesday that had allowed the Afula municipality to hold a concert geared for the ultra-Orthodox community with separate seating for men and women, upsetting religious lawmakers even though the decision came after the concert was almost finished.

The three justices’ decision specifically stated that the judgment was not dealing with the issue of gender separation, but rather the limits of the Nazareth Regional Court’s authority. The court stated the lower court had overstepped its authority when it reversed its original ban on the concert.

The limited nature of the High Court’s ruling was overshadowed by the reactions of those on opposite sides of the political map to the various court rulings.

Left-wing politicians celebrated what in their eyes was the court’s upholding of the principle of equality.

Separate seating was “based on discrimination and the denigration of women,” said Democratic Union head Nitzan Horowitz, adding that “any separation in the public domain does injury to basic rights.”

The ultra-religious Shas party’s legal advisor Yisrael Bach, who had filed the winning appeal against the ban, was angered by the ruling.

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“The Supreme Court has once again proved its position that equality stops when it comes to hareidim and, using procedural reasons, erased an important legal achievement that was achieved today in favor of the hareidi public,” he said.

Another Shas lawyer put it more bluntly.

“The court said no to the fundamental rights of the hareidi public,” said Eliezer Ruddin, who represented MK Moshe Arbel. “The court perpetuates secular extremism and interference with values ​​that are important to minority communities.”

The ban had been based on the Nazareth court accepting an appeal by the Israel Women’s Network (IWN), which argued that forcing men and women to sit separately violated laws against discrimination and could not be publicly funded.

IWN had gone to court to stop the concert even though the feminist organization knew that the concert featured haredi singers and the vast majority of the audience would insist on sitting separately as part of their religious beliefs. In fact, the main act, Moti Steinmetz, canceled his appearance when he was informed that the court had ordered that mixed seating would be allowed.

One of the Shas arguments was that since the Afula municipality had sponsored over 350 summer events that had mixed seating, it was not too much to ask for one concert that took into consideration the religious values of the intended audience and would not greatly inconvenience the wider public.