A Jerusalem court [government website, in Hebrew] ruled on Wednesday that El Al Airline [corporate website] employees cannot ask women to change seats to accommodate men. Recently there has been an increased number [NYT report] of disruptions on flights due to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who refuse to sit next to women for fear of inadvertently touching them during a flight. The issue, some argue, is emblematic of the growing tension in Israel between gender and religion in public spaces. The lawsuit was brought by 83-year-old retired lawyer Renee Rabinowitz after she was asked to move [NYT report] from her business-class aisle seat when an Orthodox man complained about having to sit next to her. Rabinowitz, who escaped European Nazis as a child, was represented by Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) [advocacy website]. El Al denied discriminating against women and argued that their reseating policies, such as being moved to be closer to a family member or farther from a crying baby, apply equally to both men and women. The court found that asking anyone to change seats because of their gender violated Israel’s anti-discrimination laws. Rabinowitz was awarded 6,500 shekels (about USD $1,800) in damages. El Al has agreed to inform its staff in writing of the policy change within 45 days and provide employee training on how to handle similar situations.
Women’s rights groups have criticized [Jewish Women’s Archive backgrounder] Jewish law for generally favoring men. In April Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked [official website] confirmed [JURIST report] that the country’s Judicial Appointments Committee has approved the first female judge to a Muslim religious court. In September a UN expert called for [JURIST report] increased female participation in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. In 2010 Egypt’s constitutional court system allowed [JURIST report] its first women judges.