Court orders Israeli commission to drop men-only course

By on 16/04/2018 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Commmunity members sit on a wall outside the Haredi Center for Technological Studies in Jerusalem (Image courtesy: Ziyva).

A labour court in Jerusalem has ordered Israel’s Civil Service Commission to admit at least 10 women to a men-only civil service training course within 30 days – or shut it down.

The course is aimed at inducting men from strictly Orthodox Haredi communities, which practice segregated education for boys and girls, into civil service posts. A total of 20 men are enrolled on the course, which began in January.

The commission is offering a separate course starting in October for Haredi women, for which registration has already begun.

However, the Israel Women’s Group (IWN), which campaigns for gender equality, filed a petition against the government’s tender for the course with Jerusalem Regional Labor Court, arguing that gender separation is inherently discriminatory and prohibited by Israeli employment law.

Segregation unlawful

Earlier this month, a ruling in favour of the group’s petition was issued by judge Rachel Barag-Hirshberg, who gave the commission two options: add at least 10 women to the course, or freeze it entirely.

“In evaluating the gender of a candidate as a criteria for being accepted for employment, the state injured the basic right of women to equality and, in doing so, equal employment opportunities,” she wrote, as reported by the Jerusalem Post.

Barag-Hirshberg found that the commission had chosen to provide training for the Haredi sector in a segregated format without giving evidence to support this approach or examining alternatives.

Integration required

The judge indicated that she was not satisfied with the promise that a separate course for women will open in about six months, Haaretz newspaper reported, noting that its later start contributes to the inequality that has been created.

IWN managing director Michal Gera Margaliot said the court has delivered a clear message that gender separation in the civil service is prohibited, the Jerusalem Post reported.

“You cannot take us backwards by decades, and acceptance for employment cannot be done according to gender,” she said. “It would be better for the state to integrate Haredi men and women in the civil service and not lead toward the ejection of women from the public domain and the workforce.”

An IWN spokeswoman said there are Haredi men who are willing to take part in a course with women, and the commission should instead have opened a course for both sexes and only considered alternatives if it proved unsuccessful.

But Haredi feminist activist Racheli Ibenboim said the course is an extremely positive development for Haredi society, and that she’s saddened by the decision and “really angry towards those fighters for equality”.

Many secular Israelis allege that the high unemployment rate among Haredi men is because they often adopt a lifestyle of religious study, living on benefits and their wives’ salaries, and refuse to serve in the armed forces (Image courtesy: Brian Jeffery Beggerly).

Continuing controversy

The commission said it is “studying the decision”. Last week Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef added his voice to the controversy, saying that gender segregation is a basic requirement of Jewish law and citing sources including the Talmud.

“Separating between men and women doesn’t even have the faintest hint of injuring women’s rights,” he wrote in a letter to Udi Praver, head of the commission, the Jerusalem Post reported.

In December, Israel’s ruling cabinet approved a resolution setting a quota for 7% of the civil servants hired into government ministries, departments and authorities over the next three years to come from Haredi communities. The quota amounts to around 130 posts per year.

At the end of 2017, unemployment among Haredi men stood at 49%, compared to Israel’s overall male unemployment rate of about 20%; though many secular Israelis allege that this is largely because Haredi men often adopt a lifestyle of religious study, living on benefits and their wives’ salaries, and refuse to serve in the armed forces. Unemployment among Haredi women was about 26%.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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