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Israel’s top court rules ultra-Orthodox party must allow female members

An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man votes at a polling station during the municipal elections in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018.
AP Photo/Oded Balilty

Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled on Thursday that the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael faction must amend its charter to remove a clause barring women from becoming party members ahead of the country’s April 9 national elections.

A five-justice panel headed by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut gave the party 21-days to change the clause which states that “a member of the party can be: Any Jewish man aged 18 and older, who observes the mitzvot mandated by the Torah.”

The justices said in their decision that “there will not be any rules preventing acceptance of a woman as a party member”.

They added that if the amendment removing the word "man" from the charter is not made and if any woman is prevented from attaining party membership, she may file an appeal with the High Court.

A senior Agudat Yisrael member said in response to the ruling that the party “shall respect the High Court’s instructions to change the party’s constitution because it’s a matter of semantics that has no practical meaning,” according to Haaretz.

The party member said that “the failure to place any women on their roster is an outgrowth of an historic decision by the great rabbis since the state’s establishment, and the High Court is aware there is no intention to mend this."

"Even the group of women who speak about a lack of women’s representation in the party know that this won’t change in the decades to come, and still they know that Agudat Yisrael is a party that will see to the needs of all Haredi Jews. We suggest viewing this discussion in proportion as it is a mainly populist discussion without any meaning,” he was quoted by Haaretz as saying.

The High Court petition was overseen by Attorney Neta Levy, from the organization Itach-Maaki Women Lawyers for Social Justice, who represented the 10 women’s groups behind the challenge.

"We hope the Haredi parties will carry out the ruling and permit women to run in the coming election,” Levy said following the court decision, Haaretz reported.

Representing about 11 percent of Israel’s 8.5 million citizens, the ultra-Orthodox lead insular lives strictly observing Jewish Halachic laws which includes gender segregation under various circumstances.

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