Middle East Eye / August 15, 2023
Women say they are being treated as second-class citizens in Israel following a series of discriminatory incidents.
An Israeli public bus driver has been criticized for demanding that a group of teenage girls sit at the back of the bus and cover themselves up, saying that the bus caters to ultra-Orthodox passengers.
The incident on Sunday took place on the Nateev Express bus from Ashdod to Kfar Tavor. The exchange of comments between the driver and passengers resulted in an argument, which was recorded and posted online.
According to Israeli media reports, one of the girls who was on the bus said she and her friends were dressed in tank tops and jeans, and were immediately told that they were dressed immodestly.
“This is a Haredi line. The fact that you’re comfortable being naked is fine,” he said, according to reports. “You live in a Jewish state and you need to respect the people who live here.”
Responding to the incident, the bus company said they are looking into what happened and will take “all the necessary steps in a determined attempt to prevent a recurrence of such incidents”.
The teenage girls described feeling shocked and humiliated following the incident. Reports also said that two boys who accompanied the girls were forbidden from sitting with them on the bus.
The move has been criticized by some who have questioned Israel’s values.
“Israelis pride themselves on the liberal and democratic values of their country, and yet if you go outside Tel Aviv, you find that it often resembles an ultra-conservative, anti-women, patriarchal society…” one social media user wrote about the incident.
Women as second-class citizens
Women’s advocacy groups have also condemned the bus driver’s reaction. The Bonot Alternativa women’s advocacy group was quoted as saying by Haaretz that they will be getting on buses around the country in the coming days to ensure that such incidents do not reoccur.
The incident, it said, was a continuation of the “Israeli government’s policies that actively work to exclude and erase women from every space.”
On Monday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the incident, as well as other similar incidents, saying that “The state of Israel is a free country, where no one can limit who gets on public transportation and no one can dictate where she or he sits.”
According to Israeli media, this is just one of a string of examples of women being treated as second-class citizens.
Last week, a bus driver refused to answer a woman’s request to find out about the nearest station to the hospital fund in Givatayum, saying that he does not speak to women.
In another incident in Ashdod, a woman trying to board the Elektra-Afikim line was told the line was “only for men” according to Kan news.