A group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish millionaires is considering funding a private bus line in Israel that would enforce strict segregation between male and female passengers, an Israeli newspaper has reported.
The initiative follows public outrage at an incident where a secular Israeli woman refused to take a seat at the back of a public bus travelling to an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood in Jerusalem at the request of a religious male passenger.
The backers of the proposed project are looking at providing bus transportation in Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, Ashdod and Beit Shemesh as an alternative to Israel's Egged bus service, which insists that any gender segregation on its buses must be voluntary.
"The Haredi public doesn't own the entire state," Israel's Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger was quoted as saying. "I support segregation, but only when it is done willingly. On private lines in which all the passengers are eager for separation, and the dignity of women is maintained, that is a welcome initiative."
Israel's Transport Ministry has yet to respond to the request, and it remains unclear if the initiative will be approved, as Israel's laws demand that any provider of a public service must treat everybody equally.
Tanya Rosenblit, a Jewish woman, boarded a bus in Ashdod last week only to be told by a black-clad Haredi male passenger to sit at the back.
Ms Rosenblit stood her ground and police were called. A policeman asked her to agree to the request, but she refused and the man got off the bus.
She later said: "Until yesterday, I was sure that I lived in a free country. It's still hard for me to believe that in 2011, there are men who believe they must not sit behind a woman." (© Independent News Service)