Women boarding bus.
Women boarding bus. Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will discuss Sunday a bill that would define "exclusion of women" as a criminal act. The bill was proposed by MK Yitzchak Herzog (Labor).

Herzog explained that "the phenomenon of women's exclusion" has grown lately and needs to be stopped. He cited the objections to making religious soldiers watch women sing on stage, the so-called "eviction" of women from mehadrin bus lines, and the case of Naama Margulis, a girl from Beit Shemesh who was spat upon by extremist hareidim.

"The democratic regime in Israel has been based since the state's inception of a delicate status quo between the right of women to complete equality of rights and the sensitivity to Jewish tradition. While there has been great improvement in the world as regards the presence of women in the public sphere, in Israel the opposite trend is growing and women's space is becoming more limited.

"Acts that exclude women from the public sphere are present everywhere," he added. "They include the ban on women's singing in public, the separation of women in public transportation, the ban on women's faces appearing on advertisements, the exclusion of women from the [rabbinical] family court system and the separation of women on sidewalks. Recently all political parties unanimously denounced the exclusion of women and it is time to act, I expect that everyone will give their support and that the law will pass."

It is not clear whether the bill would also be applied to Muslim traditions that separate women and men in various situations, or only to religious Jews. It is also unclear whether women have a right to decide that they prefer to be separate from men, for religious or other reasons,  in certain situations. It is similiarly unclear whether it would be applied to feminist-motivated exclusion of men from women's empowerment groups and the like.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation considers bills before they are presented to the Knesset. Bills endorsed by the committee receive Coalition support and are likely to pass.