A moderate haredi I spoke with last week praised Minister Limor Livnat, who said that segregated buses should be permitted in haredi areas. People don’t realize it, but these bus routes started because of women’s complaints, he said. According to one study, one-third of all women in Israel report being sexually harassed on a bus at least once in their life.
This does not justify the humiliation experienced by women who board a segregated bus and sit at the front, of course, yet it should make all of us wonder about the exact aims of the public struggle over this issue.
Let’s assume that the haredi sector fears that some men would take advantage of the crowded conditions on a mixed-gender bus in order to harass girls and women, can we decide for them that this is not a legitimate way to contend with the problem?
Will we, those who protest against the exclusion of women, make do with the prevention of religious coercion, does Israeli society hold a deep desire to make this odd community disappear and turn the haredim into people that conduct themselves just like everyone else?
What do we really want – to see the haredim allowing us to live peacefully in the public sphere? Or maybe deep inside, without being consciously aware of it, we also hold patronizing aspirations to prompt them to “regain their senses” and live like us, dress like us, and study the exact curriculum we study at school?
The protest wave against the radical haredim is more than important, yet it must not get confused or get overly excited. Israel’s majority must remind itself all the time that not only women have rights. The haredi minority has rights too.