In Brooklyn, An Illegally Gender Segregated City Bus
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
At the request of a New York World reporter, Melissa Franchy took a ride on the B-110 bus and was told by hasidic men that she had to move to the back of the bus. The hasidim claimed this public bus was "private" and "Jewish" and that she had to comply. The driver did not intervene.
The B-110 runs between Williamsburg and Borough Park. A city franchisee – in this case, Private Transportation Corporation, owned by Jacob Marmurstein – operates the route, which has regular blue bus stop signs just like every other city bus route. About the only difference between the B-110 and other city buses besides the illegal segregation is that riders pay their fare in cash. Metro Cards are not accepted.
The World called the city to find out if franchisees have to follow the city's anti-discrimination laws. They do:
City, state and federal law all proscribe discrimination based on gender in public accommodations. “Discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations in New York City is against the law,” said Betsy Herzog, a spokeswoman for the New York City Commission on Human Rights, which investigates and prosecutes alleged violations of anti-discrimination law.
The Department of Transportation, which issues the franchise, confirms that it understands the B110 to be subject to anti-discrimination laws. “This is a private company, but it is a public service,” said Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the DOT. “The company has to comply with all applicable laws.”
The DOT says it is contacting Private Transportation Corporation with "the expectation that it will take steps to prevent the occurrence of incidents of this nature.”
Religious groups can be excused from following the law under certain circumstances (although public transportation would not seem to be one of them), but the World reports that Private Transportation Corporation has not applied for an exception.
According to the World, the city's Human Rights Commission says it is unable to investigate the B-110 unless a formal complaint is filed.
Writing in the Jewish Press in February 2009, Rabbi Gershon Tennenbaum reported that:
…[T]he bus company's board of consulting rabbis directed that male passengers occupy the front of the bus and females the back. When a bus driver attempts to service an overflow of passengers, men and women are unacceptably intermingled. Accordingly, when buses are full, the board of rabbis has directed that buses not stop for additional passengers.
This appears to violate anti-discrimination law because of the gender segregation, because of the passengers left standing in the street, and because a board of rabbis is dictating how a public bus operates.
Two weeks ago, FailedMessiah.com reported that Williamsburg hasidim had illegally bolted Yiddish signs to public trees. The signs asked women walking on Williamsburg sidewalks to step aside to allow men to pass.
In that case, the city removed the signs that were on public property soon after FailedMessiah.com posted its report.
In New Square, the hasidic village in upstate New York, signs are illegally posted on telephone poles ordering men to walk on one side of the street and women on the other.
In Israel, the High Court has repeatedly ruled that forced gender segregation on public buses or on the city's streets is illegal.
Even so, Israel's police and government have failed to enforce the High Court's rulings, apparently because they fear haredi violence and the loss of haredi support for their coalition government.
A Jerusalem city council member was stripped of her portfolios yesterday by the city's secular mayor because her petition to the High Court to force the police and government to stop forced gender segregation on the streets of the Mea Shearim neighborhood, a haredi stronghold, was succesful.
And Israel's branch of the Reform Movement has just filed a petition with the High Court to end forced gender segregation at the main entrance to the Western Wall plaza and on buses departing from it.
But Israel's police force is a national organization under the direct control of the government, and Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu from the rightist Likud Party, has shown little interest in upholding or enforcing the High Court's rulings – especially when doing so might imperil his fragile coalition.
Update 12:20 pm CDT – The New York Post tried to replicate the New York World's experience. The Post's reporter was told by the B-110's bus driver that the front seats are reserved for men, but no one tried to force her to move after she sat there anyway. There were also signs in Yiddish and English telling women to enter and exit through the back door during busy times. [Hat Tip for the update: Burich.]