Egged bus (illustrative)
Egged bus (illustrative)Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Ministerial Law Committee on Sunday approved for a Knesset vote legislation that would increase the penalties imposed for those who attempt to deny women their rights in public spaces. The legislation would widen existing laws against discrimination, to include “exclusion of women” from public spaces, which has been a hot-button topic in Israel in recent years.

Those laws would be expanded to provide criminal penalties for anyone convicted of discriminating against an individual because of their religion, ethnic background, race, or gender. Offenders could be imprisoned for as much as six months.

The legislation was prompted by recent incidents in which women were forced to sit in the back of buses when they were riding in hareidi Jewish neighborhoods. In several instances, women said that they were accosted, cursed, and even attacked when they sat at the front of buses driving in areas of Ramat Beit Shemesh and other communities. The Knesset passed laws against the practice, but the new legislation will beef up those laws, sharply increasing the penalties for offenders.

The law will apply to any service provider, such as a bus operator, a storekeeper, an office manager, and others who are responsible for access to spaces that are supposed to be open to the general public. The law will also apply to any individual who attempts to prevent others from accessing services generally available to the public, even if they do not actively attempt to prevent someone from doing so.

We must fight this phenomenon in a direct and clear manner, with the full force of the law,” said Justice Minister Tzippy Livni, a backer of the legislation.

“We will fight against unacceptable separation in society, such as that between men and women, Jews and Arabs, discrimination against those who try to keep others out of clubs and restaurants on the basis of their looks or background, and other forms of discrimination.

We will display zero tolerance for these kinds of behavior,” Livni said. “Israel is a democracy based on justice and equality, and any attempt to violate this damages the democratic backbone of our society,” she added.