Dr. Hanna Kehat’s mother did not ride her local bus for three years. The 78-year-old lifelong resident of the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood Mea Shearim lost her bus because Haredi extremists would stone the bus every time it rode down her street. So Egged simply stopped the route, forcing her and many of her car-less neighbors to walk distances to find a different bus.
“Women in her community are being completely neglected – they are at the mercy of the sikrikim,” Kehat told The Sisterhood, referring to one of Israel’s the most extreme ultra-Orthodox sects.
Today, however, the bus has returned to its route, thanks to one change: Police intervention.
The question about what role the government plays in protecting Israeli citizens from Haredi violence came to the fore last week, when the Interministerial Committee to Prevent the Exclusion of Women, headed by Minister of Sport and Culture Limor Livnat, released its findings. Among the most controversial conclusions of its three-month long investigation is the committee’s recommendation to support a 2011 High Court ruling that deems gender segregation on public transport a matter of “choice.”
Although the committee also recommended a hotline for complaints, writing clear guidelines for bus drivers and putting immovable signs on buses reminding passengers that they have the right to sit wherever they want, many anticipated that the committee would find a way to declare segregation in buses illegal.
Kehat, the founder of the Orthodox women’s group Kolech points out that the issue of Haredi women’s choice remains dubious. “Kolech receives all the complaints of Haredi women who cannot complain in public,” she said that women who speak out risk being ostracized from their communities.
“To talk about the community choosing means the men are choosing,” Kehat said, who said she was saddened that Livnat adopted this language.