Likud leader Netanyahu, Religious Zionism head Smotrich
Likud leader Netanyahu, Religious Zionism head SmotrichHaim Tuitto

In a new twist to coalition negotiations, both the Religious Zionism and the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) parties are demanding that separation between men and women at any public event should be anchored in law as inherently not discriminatory, with a stress on cultural events geared toward the religious and haredi publics, studies at all levels, and public services.

According to the new report, published in Israel Hayom, the demand is motivated by a wish to avoid the kind of "judicial persecution" that has been seen in the past by officials within the judicial system such as former Deputy Attorney-General Dina Zilber, who made great efforts to prevent gender-based separation. Feminist lobbies and other organizations have also been extremely active in the past in attempting to disallow separation between men and women in public spaces, even at events geared toward the religious community.

Sources close to the coalition negotiations emphasize that the demand being made by the religious and haredi parties is not intended to expand gender separation in the public sphere or to exclude women from public life, but rather to ensure that such separation at events and in the provision of public services is anchored in law as permissible and will no longer be open to accusations of discriminatory practice.

At present, the law prohibits discrimination in the provision of public services or the operation of a public space on the basis of gender or sector. Exceptions are only permitted in the presence of what is judged to be genuine justification, according to a long list of conditions. Furthermore, the law asserts that gender-based separation harms the right to equality as is laid down in the country's Basic Law: Human Dignity.

During his time in office, former Attorney-General Dr. Avichai Mandelblit presented a summary of the existing regulations, according to which local authorities may permit the holding of public events with gender-based separation if certain conditions are fulfilled, including the recognition that holding such an event without such separation would lead to the exclusion of parts of the community, and a preference for making such separation voluntary rather than imposed.

Nonetheless, various events in the past have led to considerable friction between the religious public and the courts, such as a notable incident that occurred several years ago when the Supreme Court forbade gender-based separation at an event geared toward the haredi public at which famous Chassidic singer Motti Steinmetz was to have performed.

Both UTJ and Religious Zionism now want to establish firmly in law that holding public events and providing public services with separation between men and women will not be considered discriminatory, in order to prevent such attacks in the future that infringe on their ability to live according to their religious beliefs.

Other demands being made by the Religious Zionism party in coalition negotiations include a stipulation that the Chief Rabbinate must be consulted in all laws pertaining to Judaism; the expansion of the city of Jerusalem; and the application of Israeli sovereignty to many of the communities in the near proximity of the capital (Maale Adumim, Beitar Illit, the Gush Etzion regional council area, Efrat, and Givat Ze'ev). The party, headed by MK Bezalel Smotrich, also wants to see a new section enacted into the Basic Laws: Immigration; and the establishment of a ministerial committee for the regulation of Bedouin communities in the Negev.