Resolution on Gender Segregation in Secular Public Spaces in Israel
Adopted by 2012 JCPA Plenum
Israel was founded as a democratic state upon principles of liberty, justice, and the equal rights
of all its citizens. The values of freedom and human rights reflect the essence of Israeli society
and undergird the strength and resilience of the Israeli people. Israel’s Declaration of
Independence provides that Israel will “uphold the full social and political equality of all its
citizens, without distinction of race, creed, or sex.”
Recent events have shown that attempts to enforce gender segregation in public, secular spaces
under the banner of Jewish law have increased in Israel. Over the course of the past decade, it
has become an increasingly common practice to force women to sit in the back on some public
buses. Women who have resisted these practices have been subjected to abuse.
After extensive advocacy from many groups, a committee appointed by the Israeli
Transportation Ministry to study and make recommendations regarding gender segregation on
public bus lines issued a report in October, 2009. One of the findings of the committee was that
every woman had the right to enter and sit on a public bus wherever she chooses. The Israeli
Supreme Court has declared the practice of forced gender segregation on public buses to be
illegal. Despite this ruling and the Israeli government’s position, women who have refused to
comply with commands to move to the back of buses continue to report incidents of abuse and
physical violence. The number of bus lines that force women to the back of the bus has grown.
This gender-based discrimination extends beyond segregation on public buses. Certain
sidewalks, streets, public buildings, and other shared public spaces have also been segregated in
Rabbis and organizations in Israel and the United States, including leading Orthodox rabbis and
institutions, have joined in condemning both forced gender segregation in public, secular places,
as well as the use of violence against women and children. They have stressed that nothing in the
Jewish religious tradition condones such behavior.
The Jewish religious tradition and the Jewish advocacy world have long valued and supported
carefully balanced efforts to afford people of diverse religious faiths and practices appropriate
and legal accommodations of their religious practices.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs believes that:
Every person, regardless of gender, deserves equal access and use of public services and
public secular spaces
Pursuant to our sense of justice, and in accordance with Jewish values, it is critical that the
Jewish community speak out and take action in opposition to discriminatory acts and
behavior that seek to enforce gender segregation in the public, secular sphere.
National and local governments, communities, and individuals, should commit to ending the
practice of denying women equal access to buses, sidewalks, and other secular, public
Those who practice or advocate violence or other illegal acts in an effort to enforce
discriminatory practices should be punished to the full extent of the law.
Enforced gender segregation in secular public spaces is inconsistent with Israel’s founding
principles of equality for all regardless of race, creed, or sex.
There may indeed be circumstances (such as public swimming pools in Orthodox and Arab
neighborhoods) where gender separation will be deemed appropriate to reflect the religious
and cultural sensitivities of the intended recipients of the municipal services. Any such
accommodations must be crafted with every effort to avoid discrimination against those who
do not share those sensitivities and implemented in a way that does not impose particular
religious practices on the general society.
The community relations field should:
Express steadfast opposition to forced gender segregation in public, secular places
Advocate for effective enforcement of laws that forbid gender segregation in public secular
spaces in Israel, including working with Israeli groups and directly communicating with
members of Knesset and government officials
Develop resources to advance awareness of this problem and action opportunities to help