A Jerusalem woman is suing Israel Railways after she says she was asked to move carriages to accommodate male ultra-Orthodox passengers who wished to pray on the train.
According to Melitz, in December 2018 she was on a train from Jerusalem to Ben-Gurion Airport when she was approached an member of staff who said her presence was a distraction to the men.
Melitz says she declined on the grounds that the train was a public space, yet the staff member repeated his request, and then joined the Haredi men in their prayer.
"I was shocked," says Melitz. "The shock was soon replaced by hurt that my mere presence as a woman was considered a disturbance, and the only solution was to move me to another carriage."
Melitz filed a complaint with Israel Railways with the help of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) organization, and asked that the company issue clear instructions to all employees regarding their duty to treat all passengers equally, regardless of gender, and prohibit them from making women move because of their gender.
Melitz also sought financial compensation for the discrimination she reportedly experienced.
For a year, Melitz received no response from Israel Railways regarding her complaint, and subsequently filed a suit at Jerusalem District Court, demanding financial compensation of NIS 66,000 (approx. $20,000).
"It's absurd that a woman who just wants to ride the train is asked by an employee to move to a different carriage since her very existence is a disturbance to men's prayers," says Miri Nahmias, an attorney at the IMPJ legal advocacy arm, the Israel Religious Action Center.
"It's hard to believe that in 2020 we still need to fight for our right to be present in a public space."
Michal Gera Margaliot, the executive director of the Israel Women’s Network, a volunteer group which works to promote woman's rights in Israel, says Melitz's experience is not unusual.
"This is not the first testimony we received regarding public transportation in Israel," she says. "Public organizations are responsible for making sure no woman are being excluded."
In response to the allegations, Israel Railways said it is "committed to providing an equal service to all its customers, and as such anyone is permitted to sit wherever they so choose.
"From a thorough investigation we have done regarding the event, we have concluded that events described in the lawsuit are substantially different from what actually happened."
According to Israel Railways, it was Melitz who turned to the member of staff, saying the prayer were disturbing her.
"The staff member offered her to move to another carriage; she was in no way ordered to do so," the railway said.