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Probe launched into Israeli bus segregation

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Summary of story from Y Net News, December 18, 2011

An official investigation has been launched into an incident in which a young woman was told to sit in the back of a bus driving from Ashdod to Jerusalem in Israel (see WVoN story).

Gender segregation is said to be on the rise in Israel as ultra-Orthodox rabbis hit out against what they view as an increasingly secular society.

The incident happened on Friday when a woman named Tanya Rosenblit boarded bus 451. “I dressed modestly and tried to keep a low profile, but I could tell something strange was going on,” she said.

“I could tell that the other passengers were looking at me with disdain. One of them yelled ‘Shiksa’ [a term for a non Jewish woman that implies immorality] at me and demanded I move to the back of the bus, because Jewish men can’t sit behind a woman.”

Rosenblit refused. “I wasn’t causing any provocation. It’s a normal bus and anyone can ride it. I bought my ticket, just like they did and they have no right to tell me where to sit.”

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said that if it turns out that the bus company or the bus driver failed to meet protocol, the ministry will apply the full extent of the law on all those who violated regulations.

The incident fanned the flames of an already heated debate about the growing demand by some religious elements to shun women from Israel’s public sphere.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that fringe groups should not take apart “our common denominator.” Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting he said, “We must maintain the public sphere as an open and safe place for all Israeli citizens.”

Israeli society, he said “is a complex fabric of Jews and Arabs, Seculars, religious and haredim. Recently we have witnessed attempts to untie our co-existence. We need to look for what beings us together and not what tears us apart.”

Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni also spoke with Rosenblit, telling her she had sent the right message. “There is no doubt that your determination symbols our need to fight and not give up.”

The incident even prompted Israel’s chief rabbi to protest: “This is not the haredi public’s country. We have no authority to force our opinions on others,” Rabbi Yona Metzger said.

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