"In Safed someone asked me to move to the back of the bus, but I refused. In Hazor many haredim got on and then the yelling started. Everyone who got on the bus told me to move to the back, they said I was impure and yelled that everyone should say the Traveler's Prayer very loudly because there's an impurity in the bus.…Everyone who got on told me to sit in the back; I refused. They yelled that they must pray really hard because there's an impurity in the bus.…As a religious person, I know that bus seating arrangements are not written in the Torah; they invented themselves a halacha."
The story of the alleged harassment of a young woman on an Egged public bus from Sefat to Ashdod has been fleshed out considerably by Ynet, which fills in the many gaps in an earlier, nearly illiterate Times of Israel report.
Noa Kanteman, a 22-year-old physiotherapy student in Safed, took Egged’s Number 985 bus Friday morning to visit her sister who lives in Ashdod, several hours away. She says she was the first to board the empty bus.
“No one was there, so I took the seat behind the front door, by the driver. Once the bus got going haredi passengers got on and the trouble started. In Safed someone asked me to move to the back of the bus, but I refused. In Hazor many haredim got on and then the yelling started. Everyone who got on the bus told me to move to the back, they said I was impure and yelled that everyone should say the Traveler's Prayer very loudly because there's an impurity in the bus.…Everyone who got on told me to sit in the back; I refused. They yelled that they must pray really hard because there's an impurity in the bus.…As a religious person, I know that bus seating arrangements are not written in the Torah; they invented themselves a halacha,” she told Ynet.
Kanteman apparently called her sister in Ashdod to tell her what was happening and to ask her to call for help.
“One man stood very close to me, asked me to move to the back and said it won't do [that she refused]. He scared me so I decided to turn to the police. My sister called the Ashdod police and I got a call from them moments later. On a break in Meggido Junction I got off to talk to the police officers. When I got back on I saw on my seat a note which said: 'We're all kosher Jews, please help us keep kosher and move to the back, where the women sit."
Even though the note was on her seat, when she re-boarded the bus after speaking to police at Meggido, she overheard some of the passengers trying to calm down others, waring that Kanteman had called police.
When the bus reached the Ashdod city limits, it was met by two police cars. Police officers immediately deposed Kanteman.
One haredi passenger, a 17-year-old, was questioned on suspicion of harassment and invasion of privacy.
"Religion is about respect, and that simply wasn't there. I don’t know what a kosher bus is. I knew many haredim use it, but according to Egged and the law you can sit anywhere," Kanteman said.
As it has many times before, Egged tried to cover for a driver’s inappropriate response to haredi harassment of women.
“The company policy is clear and states that the driver shouldn't get involved in what transpires in the bus. Everyone is allowed to sit wherever they want. Only when actual coercion bordering on violence is underway is the driver required to act. If he can't deal with the situation himself, he must call the police,” an Egged spokesman told Ynet.
The problem, however, is that Egged’s guidelines would have required the driver to intervene in this case. But some Egged drivers have actually tried to force women in these cases to move to the back of the bus. Many more Egged drivers, like this one, did nothing to help the woman being harassed.
Remember, Kanteman was sitting in the first row of seats next to the driver, and one of the men who harassed her actually sat on the steps in front of Kanteman to intimidate her, according to the Times of Israel report.
There was no way Egged could claim that the driver did not know what was happening.
So Egged did what it has done so many times before – it lied.
"In this case, the passenger dealt with those who couldn't bear her presence on her own without involving the driver, and called the police. We will summon all the drivers and study what happened, when on the face of it, it seems the driver acted duly. The Egged Company condemns the incident, and regrets that it occurred in the public space of our buses.” the Egged spokesman said.
Yes, Kanteman’s sister did call police – but only after Egged’s driver acted inappropriately by doing nothing in the face of the mounting harassment and threats.
Outside of haredi rabbis and haredim themselves, the ultimate responsibility for this continued haredi harassment of women lies with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu – perhaps the most selfish, craven and thuggish prime minister in Israel’s history – has consistently refused to enforce rulings made by Israel’s High Court of Justice. He has tried to lie and parse himself out of the need to enforce laws his haredi coalition partners dislike.
Netanyhu’s government has plenty of ways at its disposal to ensure these buses are harassment-free and safe for all to ride.
But Netanyahu won’t use those tools because he fears upsetting the haredi coalition partners he so needed to stay in power before the January 22 elections – the same haredim he will almost certainly need again in the not too distant future.