JERUSALEM (JTA) – Activists are working to reinstate Jerusalem City Council member Rachel Azaria, who was stripped of her portfolio after petitioning Israel’s Supreme Court to ban gender segregation in a haredi Orthodox neighborhood.
Thousand of individuals and pluralist organizations have signed a petition to restore Azaria to her positions on the council. Azaria, who was relieved of her duties last week by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat after the court agreed to her petition and upheld a ruling that had banned gender segregation on the streets of the Mea Shearim neighborhood.
Azaria’s duties on the City Council had concerned community councils and childhood issues. She was elected on the independent Jerusalemite ticket in 2008.
Barkat’s office told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Azaria was not relieved of her duties for opposing gender segregation but for suing the city in the Supreme Court.
"The Jerusalem municipality opposes gender separation in public spaces, and it will continue to help the police enforce the law as is required," a city spokesman told the newspaper. "Without any connection to this, the rule that all coalition factions are beholden — as a result of their membership in the municipal coalition — to mutual commitment and loyalty remains in effect."
In a Facebook message, Azaria condemned Barkat for siding with extremists.
In Mea Shearim, a faction within the community had set up fences and stationed private ushers to enforce separation between genders during Sukkot, when the streets are filled with city residents out celebrating, as well as visitors.
The court’s three judges ruled that sex segregation hurts neighborhood residents. They noted that it was the second time that the court had ruled on the matter. Last year, the court had instructed police to enforce the law and prevent sex segregation.
Police had given Mea Shearim leaders permission to erect a new gender barrier for Sukkot this year. Some residents do not approve of the influx of visitors who come to watch the annual water-drawing festival.
Azaria and another councilwoman, Laura Verton of the Meretz faction, had petitioned the court the week before Sukkot.