Woman pressured to back of bus spurs Israeli probe

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s transportation minister ordered an investigation into an incident in which a woman was pressured to move to the back of a public bus by a haredi Orthodox man. 

Yisrael Katz on Sunday ordered an investigation into the incident, which occurred two days earlier on a public bus running from Ashdod to Jerusalem.

Tanya Rosenblit, 28, was told by the haredi man to move to the back of the bus, according to reports. The man refused to allow the bus, operated by Egged, to move for about 30 minutes, until police arrived and asked Rosenblit to move to the back, which she refused. The man then got off the bus.

Rosenblit told Israeli media that she was dressed modestly and had been on her way to work in Jerusalem when the incident occurred. One passenger called her a "shiksa," or non-Jewish woman, Yediot Achronot reported. The term can be used pejoratively.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday condemned the incident. 

"Israeli society is a mosaic composed of Jews and Arabs, secular and ultra-Orthodox, and until today we have agreed on peaceful coexistence and mutual respect among all sectors. Recently we have witnessed numerous attempts to unravel this coexistence," he said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu added, "I think that marginal groups cannot be allowed to dismantle our common denominator, and we must maintain the public space as an open and safe for all Israelis. We need to look for what unites and bridges, not what divides and separates, and this is how we will act."

The Transportation Ministry maintains a voluntary segregation plan for public buses, under which riders may sit separately if they desire, but fellow passengers cannot be pressured to sit separately. The plan was approved by Israel’s Supreme Court. 

Egged said it was investigating the incident.

"This was a grave incident in which a handful of haredim attempted to impose their way of life on other passengers," read a statement from the bus company published in Yediot Achronot. "The driver and the female passenger were left defenseless against the onslaught. The driver followed protocol. This is a complex situation and it is for State authorities to resolve."

Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger condemned the incident and suggested that the haredi Orthodox community establish its own transportation company.

Rosenblit reportedly was invited by Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat to testify before a government committee examining women’s public exclusion.
 

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