It turned out exactly as they planned. When the Israel Women’s Network brought suit in Nazareth District Court to put the brakes on the plans for a Motty Steinmetz concert in an Afula city park — an event catered to Haredim and which would naturally feature only separate seating for men and women – the self-appointed feminist activists knew exactly what would happen.
Israeli law officially bans mandatory gender segregation at public events, and this event was to offer that type of seating exclusively. Motty Steinmetz is a young, soulful Hasidic singer — a rising international star on the Jewish music scene — and his audience is the sizeable segment of Orthodox Jews that not only prefers but limits itself to separate-seating events. What’s more, Steinmetz has long made clear that he will not perform before mixed audiences, period. In 2015, he famously declined an invitation to perform at the annual gala HASC benefit concert in New York — reportedly forgoing a six-figure paycheck — because it offered a mixed seating option alongside separate sections.
The assertion that the organizers could still hold the Afula event, which was scheduled for tomorrow, and offer separate seating as long as there was no “enforcement” of the seating rules was a dressed-up, entirely useless concession designed to look like a fair compromise. The judge ruled that organizers could not force non-Haredim attending the event (uh, come again?) or those passing through the park to adhere to the gender segregation rules. Now, who do you think might choose to waltz through the park during the concert, previously having known nothing of Motty Steinmetz, demanding to sit wherever they please? The judge also warned that police would take seriously any complaints about the seating scheme. Again, it is no stretch to foresee a complaint department setting up shop in the park, ready for battle.
I get it: the judge was backed against a wall here. What’s troubling is that the suit was brought in the first place. This vindictive action against the Haredi community was instigated by a group of women who claim to stand for tolerance, but are in fact paragons of intolerance. The country’s lawbooks are full of statutes, but most are only enforced when brought to judgment by aggrieved parties. (That’s why my inconsiderate neighbors can make excessive noise in their garden at all hours of the night and nothing happens unless someone calls the police — and even then, not necessarily.)
Why did the idea of a gender-segregated event in which they had absolutely no interest vex these women so? I can’t help wondering if they would have filed a lawsuit if the event in question had been tailored for a community of a different faith. Those who purport to be champions of rights and freedoms are only satisfied when they get to define what is right and free. So the petitioners took away a night of musical uplift from hundreds, if not thousands, of fellow Jews who would have happily attended and sat comfortably among their own.
I write this as someone who prefers to sit next to her husband at most events, though I would not rule out attending a separate event if it interested me. I also quite enjoy Motty Steinmetz’s inspiring melodies. It’s simple: He gets to choose where and under what circumstances to perform, and his fans follow. No one has to buy a ticket unless he — or she — wants to see the show.