Hillary Clinton enters Israel gender dispute

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar have joined the war of words over women's rights and gender segregation in public areas in Israel.

In recent months there have been reports of Orthodox passengers enforcing a de facto segregation system on buses in Jerusalem and other areas, with woman being told to sit at the back.

In January, the Supreme Court outlawed buses with enforced segregation along gender lines and, earlier this year, Israel's High Court of Justice ruled against the gender segregation of streets and pavements in the Orthodox district of Mea She'arim.

There have also been controversies involving the IDF, with female recruits transferred out of their units because of complaints from Charedi soldiers set to join them, or of male soldiers refusing to participate in an army concert because of the presence of female singers.

Hillary Clinton, speaking at the closed Saban forum last weekend, reportedly expressed concern about these instances of gender segregation.

A spokesman for her office later confirmed that she was worried about "conservative comments on women" in Israel and also about the spate of controversial bills clamping down on left-wing NGOs and the media that have been proposed in the Knesset.

Her remarks were criticised by some in Israel but, later this week, Sephardi spiritual leader Rabbi Amar warned those who support public segregation that it is "not Jewish law". He told an Israeli radio station: "People who do it do it for their own sakes."

Meanwhile, the New Israel Fund launched a campaign this week asking women in the UK and the US to send photographs of themselves to NIF's main Israel office, to be posted in public places in Jerusalem.

This follows an initiative by NIF-funded group Yerushalmim to put up posters of women across Jerusalem in response to an unofficial, Charedi-led ban on women appearing in advertising in the city.

Last updated: 12:42pm, December 8 2011