Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubenstein said Sunday that the court is leaning toward approval of gender-separate seating on public buses. The Reform movement's Israel Religious Action Center and feminist groups had filed suit against the buses, which are commonly known as “Mehadrin” lines.
While separate seating for men and women will be allowed, the arrangement must be voluntary, Rubenstein said. The Transportation Ministry will work to ensure that women are not forced to sit separately from men.
The separated buses operate primarily in hareidi-religious areas. A few women who have used the buses have reported that they were forced to sit in the women's section against their will.
Feminist groups that were part of the suit called on Rubenstein to clarify whether the court will adopt the recommendations put forth by a Transportation Ministry committee that investigated the matter, or the recommendations made by Minister Yisrael Katz, which included fewer changes to the current situation.
Attorney Orly Erez-Lahovsky, representing the plaintiffs, said the question of how passengers enter the bus “is critical.” Currently, women enter through the rear door, while men enter in the front. “That must be changed to make these lines like all the other public transportation lines in the country,” she said.
While some feminist groups filed suit against separation on public buses, a new women's organization calling itself The Women's Lobby – an Organization for Women's Rights called on the court to reject the suit.
“Our argument is simple, the 'mehadrin' lines arrangement does not violate women's rights, but on the contrary, protects them,” said Attorney Irit Veronin, representing the new group. The separation of the sexes “prevents [women] from being exposed to the sexual harassment that is common on public transport,” she continued.
The separation is voluntary, and “the women who use these lines are satisfied with the arrangement,” Veronin said.