David Frum

02.19.13

What Should the Ultra-Orthodox Do About Gender Equality on Israeli Buses?

Ultra Orthodox Jews walk past a bus. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images) ()

This story of sex-bullying in Israel has a (relatively) happy ending.

Police on Sunday arrested a man suspected of ordering a woman to the back of a bus, on Friday. The incident took place when two ultra-Orthodox men ordered 22-year-old Noa Kentman to move to the back of a public bus — which was traveling from Safed to Ashdod — because of her gender. The woman filed a report with the police, resulting in the arrest of the suspect. …

Kentman sat at the front of the intercity coach when a couple of ultra-Orthodox men demanded that she immediately remove herself to the rear of the vehicle.

When she refused, the men shouted she was “impure,” and began reciting prayers and screaming at her.

One of the ultra-Orthodox men then sat on the front steps of the bus near the driver to deliberately sit in front of her. The woman’s younger sister called the police, who sent squad cars to intercept the bus at the entrance of the destination city.

The Supreme Court of Israel has already pronounced gender-segregated buses unlawful. Yet some persist in trying to achieve through personal bullying what has been forbidden by law - and unfortunately, the police cannot always be counted upon to act decisively. A story from 2011:

Tanya Rosenblit, a 28-year-old woman from the southern town of Ashdod, discovered this last Friday, when she boarded a bus to an Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem. Shortly after she sat down behind the driver, a man wearing the black garb and flowing sidelocks of the ultra-Orthodox boarded the bus and asked her to move. She refused, and the man then blocked the bus from driving, she told The Associated Press.

She held her ground — even after a male police officer dispatched to the scene asked her if she was "willing to respect them and move to the back," she said.

"I said, 'I respected them enough with my modest dress and I don't plan to humiliate myself to respect them or anyone else,'" she said.
The man opted to stay in Ashdod rather than travel on the bus with her.

If the ultra-Orthodox feel so strongly against riding on buses alongside women, there's a simple solution available to them: walk.