Afula Separate-Seating Brouhaha Could See Smotrich Fired

YERUSHALAYIM -
Minister Betzalel Smotrich. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud MKs on Monday were urging Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to fire Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich, as the campaign for votes on the right begins to heat up. A report on Channel 13 Monday said that Netanyahu was seriously considering the idea, but had not made up his mind yet. In response to the report, Smotrich said that he was “working as usual, we have a country to run here.”

The background to the threat is a comment Smotrich made Sunday, in the wake of the decision by the Nazareth district court to prohibit separate seating at a musical event geared to the chareidi community. The court ruled in favor of a lawsuit by feminist and reform groups against the Afula municipality, demanding that center staff who will be seating guests not enforce the separate seating that sponsors of the event promised would take place. In addition, they demanded that the show include women entertainers. The fact that the event is taking place in a public space is sufficient to require that rules on discrimination against women are enforced, the court said.

In response, Smotrich slammed the lower court’s decision and implied that the prime minister was at fault, saying that he expected Netanyahu to speak out against this “nonsense, which is taking place fully on his watch. There is zero leadership here.”

In response, Netanyahu said in a social media post that he was “not impressed by the ‘Twitter cabinet,’” but Likud MKs were not as flippant, and have been urging Netanyahu to fire Smotrich unless he apologizes. Netanyahu reportedly discussed the matter with Likud insiders Monday morning, Channel 13 said, after MKs said that they believed Smotrich was planning to join United Right heads Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked in recommending someone other than Netanyahu for the prime minister’s post after next month’s election. All three have denied that they are planning to do so.

In a statement, the United Right said that “the disrespectful attitude of Netanyahu to Religious Zionism is well-known. He uses us and throws us away. The fact that he is even daring to discuss firing Smotrich proves that Netanyahu favors a leftwing government,” and is planning a unity government with Blue and White after the election. “He would never have dared raise the idea of firing Moshe Kahlon or Avigdor Liberman, both of whom have savagely attacked him,” the party said.

Meanwhile, in the wake of their success in Afula, feminist and reform groups have now turned their attention to Haifa, where another separate-seating event is scheduled for later this month. In a letter to Haifa mayor Einat Kalish-Rotem, the groups said that “discrimination against women in the public space is against the law, violates Basic Laws, and damages the principles of equal treatment for all.” The letter demands that the municipality cancel the August 28th event.

On Monday, Shas on Monday filed a petition with the High Court against the ruling by the Nazareth court, saying that it is unfair and harms the rights of chareidi Jews to their preferred lifestyle. Shas in its petition said that the event was open to those who wished to attend, and those who did not wish to respect the separate seating clause were free not to attend. The event is meant for individuals who voluntarily and out of their own free will want to sit in gender-separated areas, and the fact that they are city residents makes them eligible to attend such events in city-sponsored public spaces. Previous High Court decisions, Shas says in its petition, confirm this right.