'Attorney General is afraid of women's groups'

MK Smotrich blasts AG's support for Tel Aviv municipality's ban on gender-separated Chabad event.

Tal Polon,

Flash 90

MK Betzalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) this morning blasted the Attorney General, whom he blamed for the impending cancellation of a gender-separated event organized by Chabad for June 25 in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.

The event, entitled “Messiah in the Square,” was planned to coincide with the Hebrew day of the 12th of Tammuz, which marks the liberation of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe from Soviet prison in 1927. The organizers of the Tel Aviv event advertised it as a celebration of “faith, happiness, and redemption.” The event was to be held largely with gender separation between men and women in accordance with Jewish standards of modesty, though an option was provided for mixed seating to those who so wished.

However, following pressure from women’s group "The Israel Women's Network", Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai announced that the event would only be held if it did not include gender separation. He relied on the opinion of the attorney general, who had ruled that the municipality is entitled to decide not to hold events with gender separation.

"Our city Tel Aviv, in which the Declaration of Independence was read, has always led the protection of human rights, equality and gender equality in particular," Mayor Huldai said.

"The decision is in line with the State of Israel's values that seek equal rights to all, while eliminating the grave phenomenon of exclusion of women in public space," he elaborated.

When asked to address the issue by human rights group B’tsalmo, the attorney general’s office said that it had no intention of interfering with the decision of the mayor.

“The city has the discretion to establish criteria regarding permission to use the public sphere, and also has the authority to establish that no gender separation will take place at an event being held by its permission,” Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s representative, Attorney Rotem Ehrenreich, responded.

In a letter sent to Mandelblit this morning, Thursday, Smotrich attacked the attorney general’s position on the issue, calling it “an illegal and highly unreasonable opinion which opposes the principles of constitutional law that pertain to freedom of expression, religion and personal autonomy, and the explicit instructions of the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products Law.”

He went on to accuse the attorney general of generally being subject to fear of reprisal from the “keyboards” of women’s groups.

“I have great respect for you, but it is hard for me to escape the feeling that you simply fear confrontation with vocal women’s groups and ‘getting into their mouths and keyboards,’ and therefore, in a sort of attempt to avoid a decision, you left the matter up to every municipality.”

Towards the end of his letter, Smotrich wrote that the Tel Aviv municipality’s decision harms the constitutional rights of the event’s organizers and, as such, called on the attorney general to order that the decision be cancelled.

“The moment that the Prohibition of Discrimination Law does not forbid an event with gender separation, its organizers have a vested constitutional right to hold the event in accordance with their faith, and this must be seen as a core part of their freedom of expression to express their faith in the public sphere. It must also be seen as part of their fundamental constitutional right to dignity, autonomy and freedom of religion. As such, I ask you to immediately instruct the city of Tel Aviv that the blanket prohibition it imposes on holding events with gender separation is unconstitutional, and that it is not within its authority to prevent the holding of the ‘Messiah in the Square’ event, for which approval was received in accordance with the law from the city months beforehand.”