Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai has decided to cancel Chabad’s “Moshiach in the Square” event because it was going to maintain gender-separation. Huldai explains that the event is not a religious one and therefore, in his mind, there are no grounds to permit gender separation.
While the chareidim remain conspicuously silent, MK Betzalel Smotrich is a lone voice shouting out in defense of Chabad, against the mayor.
Working against Chabad, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in his legal opinion states the mayor has the right to determine the character of the event and use its judgement regarding a permit for any event held in a public venue.
Mandelblit adds, “In accordance with the discretion of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, when it decided that it would freeze the use of Rabin Square in favor of the requested public event, there would be no gender segregation after the organizers of the event were able to present their arguments.”
Mayor Huldai explains. “Our city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, where the Declaration of Independence was read, has always been a pioneer in the protection of human rights, equality and gender equality in particular, which is consistent with the values of the State of Israel, which strives for equal rights.” He added that with regard to the location of the event, “this is a central square that routinely serves many passersby, and that this is not a purely religious event.”
While Yahadut Hatorah and Shas both remain silent following the announced decision, Smotrich has decided to speak out, sending a harshly-worded letter to the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, with a copy to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
In the letter he writes, “I urgently appeal to you following Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s announcement that from now on he will not allow any gender segregation in public events in Tel Aviv. This announcement came after the Israel Women’s Network petitioned the Tel Aviv Municipality and Deputy Attorney General Dina Silber to protest the existence of the Moshiach Square event, a private event that was supposed to take place in Rabin Square, which offers mixed seating for those who wish as well”.
After discussion between the mayor and Deputy AG Silber, the decision was made to ban the event.
Smotrich however insists the State of Israel must protect the rights of those wishing to have a gender separated event, explaining Tel Aviv City Hall’s decision is offensive to many citizens who wish to attend the Chabad event.
Smotrich adds, “This is a war of values. In contrast to the picture that the Women’s Lobby wants to paint, and in the wake of it, the Mayor of Tel Aviv, the desire to maintain gender segregation in some circles of life is not a position that belongs to extremists or the sons of darkness, but rather a position based on a rich world of values and a long tradition of the Jewish People.
“In Israeli society, there is a legitimate debate over this world of values, its boundaries and the manner in which it is implemented, but in a public-democratic space there is no room to allow the silencing of one voice by excluding it from the public sphere. ‘Legal’ opinion is the farthest from liberalism, and rightly so, the term ‘totalitarian liberalism’.
Therefore, the MK concludes his letter to the Attorney General: “I ask you to instruct the Tel Aviv municipality immediately that the sweeping prohibition it imposes on the existence of events in gender separation is unconstitutional and that it is not within their authority to prevent the existence of the ‘Moshiach Square’ event, which was duly accepted and approved by the municipality many months earlier.”
In response to the mayor’s decision, the Ichud Leumi faction of the Bayit Yehudi party released the following message. “The secular coercion that Huldai is leading in his city is an extreme step that is endangering the delicate fabric of life in his city.”
“Will the next step be the closure of shuls in the city in which there is an ezras noshim? Unfortunately, instead of honoring tradition of Israel, and giving a place to people who believe in his city, Huldai decides to exclude them from the city of Tel Aviv, and we are witnessing the first time that in the name of the war there is a revival. We are strengthening the hands of the Chabad movement that will continue in Tel Aviv, to shine a light of tradition and unity against the darkness that the mayor leads.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)