Israel takes gender fight to buses, billboards

Mon Nov 14, 2011 10:00am EST
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By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The women turned heads as they got on Jerusalem's number 56 bus.

Startled ultra-Orthodox Jewish men looked away as the group mounted a challenge to growing gender segregation in the holy city by boarding the public vehicle from the front door and sitting in its first rows.

As the male passengers averted their gaze, adhering to a traditional edict to avoid sexual temptation, a religious woman at the back of the bus shouted at the protesters: "Deal with the drugs, the crime and prostitution in your own communities first."

Buses and billboards, where some advertisers avoid posting images of women to avoid vandalisation, have become the latest battlefields in the fight for the soul of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

The boarding of bus 56, one of several segregated routes crossing ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the city, was the latest attempt by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), to end separate seating.

"The new fad is to distance one's self from women as a way to measure piety. The idea that sex is dirty is not part of Judaism. We have to plug this leak before it spills over," said Anat Hoffman, IRAC's executive director.

But a religious woman on the bus, who gave her name only as Bracha, said there was no humiliation in sitting in the rear.

"It is a response to secular extremism. Look how their women parade along the beach in a degrading way," she said.   Continued...

<p>An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks past schoolgirls in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighbourhood November 8, 2011. REUTERS/Baz Ratner</p>