Israel's 'Rosa Parks' refuses ultra-Orthodox call to take back seat


TANYA ROSENBLIT became an instant heroine for the women’s movement in Israel over the weekend when she refused demands by ultra-Orthodox passengers to move to the back of the bus she was travelling on between the port of Ashdod and Jerusalem.

Immediately dubbed “Israel’s Rosa Parks” by the local media, Ms Rosenblit (28) refused to give up her seat in the front of the bus, which is unofficially reserved for male passengers on routes that have a large number of ultra-Orthodox passengers, the so-called “kosher buses”.

“I could tell that the other passengers were looking at me with disdain. One of them yelled ‘shiksa’ (a derogative Yiddish word for a non-Jewish woman) at me and demanded I move to the back of the bus, because Jewish men can’t sit behind a woman,” Ms Rosenblit said. I wasn’t causing any provocation. It’s a normal bus and anyone can ride it. I bought my ticket, just like they did and they have no right to tell me where to sit.”

Ultra-Orthodox passengers held up the journey for 30 minutes, but the driver continued after calling a policeman who allowed Ms Rosenblit to remain in her seat.

Gender-segregated buses on routes in ultra-Orthodox areas have become more common over recent years, part of a growing trend by religious Jewish extremists to shun women from the public sphere.

There have been numerous cases of verbal abuse and violence directed at women who refused to sit at the back of buses, and critics warned that Israel was becoming more like Iran.

Israel’s high court ruled that “voluntary segregation” on buses was permitted, but bus drivers must intervene to prevent forced separation. Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday spoke out against gender segregation. “Fringe groups must not be allowed to tear apart our common denominator. We must preserve public space as open and safe for all citizens of Israel.”

Israel’s chief rabbi Yona Metzger condemned the pressure directed against Ms Rosenblit. “This is not the ultra-orthodox public’s country. We have no authority to force our opinions on others,” he said. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni spoke to Ms Rosenblit after the incident and praised her action for sending a strong message that “respects Judaism, yet is not willing to accept the anti-democratic radicalisation which excludes women”.