Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Committee: Gender Separation is "Voluntary" on Mehadrin Buses. (Translation: Women can "choose" whether or not to be beaten up on the Mehadrin bus)


This is a “big” decision which means absolutely NOTHING.

The committee has come to the conclusion that gender segregation on mehadrin buses is “voluntary,” and that those who want such segregation can segregate themselves, but those who don’t want the segregation can’t be coerced to sit separately.

Oh, and people (women) can enter and pay from the rear doors now. Big whoop.

OK. Now, lets get out of “theoretical world” and deal with reality, shall we?

First, the buses have always had “voluntary” segregation of genders—which means, you either sat segregated or the Haredi thugs on the bus attacked you, as happened to more than one friend of mine.

My friends, the ones who were attacked, are religious women, and at least one of them has a health condition that required she sat in the first seat she came to.

One of my friends was verbally attacked, and one of my friends was viciously beaten by bus thugs who thought it was their role to “enforce” the separation of men and women on the bus (I guess you are still considered Shomer Negiah if the only contact you are making with a woman is hitting her, ripping her clothes, and tearing off her head covering?)

As I recall, a young woman in IDF uniform was also attacked on the bus line. Naomi Ragen, too, was attacked by bus thugs and wrote about it extensively.

So, now, this "special" transportation committee, in its wisdom, continues the mehadrin lines—but adds that the bus driver must enforce the voluntary nature of the seating.

In other words, in addition to watching for suicide bombers and crazy people thinking they are the messiah, the bus driver must come to the aid of these women, pull off the rabid male passengers, and then allow the woman to sit wherever she wants.

Yeah, right.

In addition, the committee adds, the bus line will not require women to be modestly dressed.

I am sitting here trying to imagine the scene:

It’s 5:30 a.m., and there are 15 Haredi men on their mehadrin bus on their way to the Western Wall to pray.
The doors open. A young woman on her way home after a night of crazy partying, steps onto the bus dressed in a micro-mini, high heals, and tank top -- her long, bleach blond hair flowing over her naked shoulders. She is wearing enough make-up to keep Estee Lauder in business for a month, and a cloud of perfume, cigarettes, and beer trails her as she walks up the aisle, a bit unsteady.

She decides to take the closest seat available, and with a flip of her skirt and a twirl of her hair, sits her half-naked self down on the seat next to a 20-something Haredi man who is shekeling furiously with his eyes trained on his siddur. She smiles, and wishes him "Boker Tov!"


I don’t think so.

If the committee seriously thinks that the bus driver would be able to contain this scene, I must assume the committee is arming these bus drivers with water canons or stun guns or mace because, as you have probably observed from the weekly Shabbat desecration they refer to as the “parking lot protests,” these men are not easily swayed.

A better scenario would be to allow the Haredi public to operate their own private bus line that is fully financed by them, for them; and where they can make the rules.

If the public buses are for the public at large (as they should be), and the Haredim have special religious needs (which they do), then allowing a privately run bus line to function in Jerusalem is really the only fair option.

Oct 28, 2009 2:51 | Updated Oct 28, 2009 5:26
'Bus segregation is legal if voluntary'

A special committee appointed by the Transportation Ministry recommended on Tuesday conducting a yearlong trial during which passengers on "mehadrin" public bus lines would be allowed to enter from either the front or the rear doors, so those who wished to maintain gender separation could do so.

However, the committee stressed that the separation of the genders must be solely on a voluntary basis, that the passengers riding on these buses may not impose it coercively and that bus drivers would be responsible for intervening to prevent coercion if it arose.

The 11-person committee, headed by Transportation Ministry deputy director-general Alex Langer, was charged with examining the urban and inter-urban public bus system arrangements for the haredi population.

It was established in the wake of a petition to the High Court of Justice filed by several women, including author Naomi Ragen, as well as the Israel Religious Action Center of the Progressive Movement (Reform), against the establishment of dozens of gender-separated bus lines over the past decade to serve the haredi community.

The petitioners called on the government to examine the issue and objectively determine how many such bus lines were necessary and how they should operate. They also called on the government to prohibit haredim from coercing passengers to abide by their customs.

In its report, the committee explained that the underlying principle determining its recommendation was that all passenger buses serving the general public belonged to the public sphere, and every member of the public had the right to use each bus in accordance with basic human rights such as equality and freedom of movement.

The corollary of the principle established by the committee was that buses serving the haredi population were an integral part of the public transportation system. The mehadrin buses were not a separate transportation system granted to the haredi population that could therefore impose on passengers whatever rules it wished, even if those rules violated basic human rights, the committee said.

"We got the impression that the haredi population that supports the arrangement and uses these bus lines treats them as lines 'belonging' to the haredi population; that is, that these lines are not part of the public transportation system, but were withdrawn from it for the benefit of a specific population," the committee members wrote. "This arrangement, which developed and expanded without direction, supervision, assessment or significant involvement on the part of the Transportation Ministry, created a feeling among groups within the haredi population that the ministry was obliged to provide them with bus lines that accommodated their way of life.

"This, in turn, led to attempts on their part to force these arrangements on passengers who did not agree to them. The voluntary dimension of the arrangement was not given expression and... is not even known to a substantial portion of the haredi population that uses these buses," the committee continued.

According to the recommendation, the buses that have been classified as mehadrin will not carry any special identification. The only difference between them and non-mehadrin buses will be that both the rear doors and the front doors will open to admit passengers, and bus fares will be taken at either door, so that if a woman agrees to set herself apart from the men and sit at the back of the bus (or vice versa), she may enter by the rear door.

However, no passenger is obliged to accept this arrangement, and anyone can sit wherever he or she wants. Furthermore, there will be no restrictions on the type of clothing women may wear on these buses.

Ragen said in response that Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz should bravely accept the conclusions of the committee, "so that we know that we are living in a democratic state and not in Iran and Afghanistan."

It was a happy day for women and a major victory for freedom and liberty, she continued. However, she said she was concerned that Katz, a Likud member, would cave in to haredi political pressure. Two haredi parties - Shas and United Torah Judaism - are members of the government coalition and might attempt to prevent implementation of the committee's recommendations.

"I believe that if the haredim have special needs, they should be allowed to run their own bus lines," said Ragen. "And Minister Katz should help them do this. But haredi busing should not enjoy government subsidies."

Ragen, whose bestselling novels often deal with haredi society and the tensions between strict social restrictions and the desire for freedom, said that speaking as a religious woman, there was no halachic problem with mixed seating of men and women on buses.

"That was the opinion of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, may his memory be a blessing, who is considered one of the most important rabbis in the US in recent decades," she said.

Feinstein's rulings are not always accepted in Israel, and many leading Israeli halachic authorities have supported separate seating.

Meanwhile, haredi activists attacked the committee's decision.

Menachem Kenig, chairman of the Mehadrin Lines Committee in the Holy Land, said that the committee's decision was based on inaccurate information.

"We never asked Egged to enforce segregation between men and women," said Kenig. "In the vast majority of situations, passengers sit in separate seats of their own free will, just like they do . . . [MORE]

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