I was interviewed last week on Radio Kol Barama. 105.7 FM. It is a publicly funded ultra-Orthodox radio station that, until recently, never allowed women to speak or be heard on the air.
When covering Knesset proceedings, Kol Barama would bleep out the voices of female Knesset members. They had a special fax line where women could send in their comments and questions, so they could be read on the air by men.
My interviewer was far from friendly. He wanted to know why I was fighting for women to light Chanukah candles at the Kotel. Why was I provoking the Kotel’s rabbi and making him so upset? Despite the animosity, it felt exhilarating to be on the air of this particular station. We had come full circle.
Last September, IRAC won a class action lawsuit against the radio station on behalf of all women affected by its discriminatory policies. The radio station did not take the decision lying down. They appealed.
This week, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected the station’s appeal. Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger’s opinion left no room for doubt. He expressed “disgust at this phenomenon,” noting that the exclusion of women “fatally harms human dignity, and the basic and inherent rights of women.”
It’s a landmark decision that will have real consequences for civil rights in Israel, far beyond the airwaves. As Haaretz reporter, Aeyal Gross, noted in this article, last week’s Supreme Court’s decision is a “precedent-setting ruling” that “serves as a milestone in the fight for gender equality.”
IRAC’s victory means that all private entities in Israel can be sued in a class action suit if they violate Israel’s anti-discrimination laws. The lawsuits can be filed even by organizations representing people who cannot sue on their own.
Some businesses have been willing to risk paying small fines for individual infractions. Class action lawsuits will now raise the stakes (and the fines) for breaking the law.
Kol Barama’s failed appeal turned out to be an unexpected Hanukkah gift that will keep on giving to anyone who is determined to encourage Israel to walk in the path of equality.
Now if only I could use a class action lawsuit to convince the heater guy to come fix the heater sometime this century.