The recent battle over whether women can be told to sit in the back of a public bus in Brooklyn to uphold Orthodox Jewish rules against the mingling of the sexes gave New Yorkers a very small taste of the battle that's currently going on in Israel. Though ultra-Orthodox Jews are a minority in the country, they're pushing to apply their religious rules in more public areas, and secular Jews are balking at the idea of sanctioning gender segregation.
While Israel is known for having strong female leaders such as Golda Meir and an army in which women have the same rights as men, gender is still a thorny issue within the country thanks to the conflict between the secular and ultra-Orthodox communities. The Associated Press estimates that of Israel's 6 million Jews, about half are secular and the rest are evenly split between Orthodox and traditional Judaism. Yet, the Ultra-Orthodox have a disproportionate amount of political power and their population is growing, particularly in Jerusalem. Now many secular Israelis fear that they could start forcing them to adhere to their rules on modesty and appropriate behavior.
Years ago Israel's Supreme Court shut down efforts to segregate busses that run through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, but recently leaders in those communities have been making new attempts to separate the sexes. Some health clinics have started featuring separate entrances and waiting rooms. Supermarkets in some ultra-Orthodox communities have started letting men and women in during different hours. Four female soldiers were told they might have to leave their artillery battalion because some extremely religious male soldiers are joining the unit.
As shown in the Brooklyn bus case, it's difficult to decide where to draw the line between the rights of one group to practice their religion and the rights those who don't share those beliefs from being discriminated against. However, the new effort to expand ultra-Orthodox regulations is having negative effects that aren't even mandated by law. For years advertisers have voluntarily kept ads featuring scantily-clad women out of certain neighborhoods in Jerusalem, as they're often defaced and torn down in a matter of hours. Now it seems it isn't enough to simply keep lingerie ads out of the area. Some advertisers have been removing women from ads altogether, and a radio station even banned songs by female singers and interviews with women. While once it was enough to keep the sexes separate, now images of women are actually disappearing from public areas.