Prime minister: Segregating genders against democratic, Jewish values; president: If a man doesn’t want to get on a bus, then he shouldn’t get on.
Israel is no place “to exclude anyone, certainly not half the population,” the prime minister said.
Netanyahu said that women must feel secure in public spaces, and that attempting tocontrol a woman’s freedom of movement in the public realm is counter to democratic and Jewish values.
“Anyone who violates the rights of women violates the principles of the State of Israel,” the prime minister declared, adding that there are still women in Israel who suffer from physical, psychological, and verbal abuse.
“No man has the authority to force a woman to sit where he wants. If a man doesn’t want to get on a bus, then he shouldn’t get on. No one is forcing him,” the president said.
The comments from Netanyahu and Peres came after US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton reportedly expressed concern at the Saban Forum in Washington DC earlier this month about the current state of Israeli democracy.
Clinton reportedly singled out the issue of gender segregation on buses as particularly unsettling, likening it to Rosa Parks, the black civil rights icon who in 1955 protested separate black and white seating in the southern US.
In January, the High Court of Justice scrapped so-called “mehadrin” public buses operated by the Egged bus company, but it is far from clear that the ruling will put an end to the gender separation arrangement in which female passengers are frequently forced to sit at the back of the bus.
Jonah Mandel contributed to this report.