Justice Anat Baron, 70, will retire from the Supreme Court Bench on October 12 where, since January 2015, she has marked the most activist, left-wing edge with rulings and minority opinions that often astonished mainstream Israelis, both secular and religious.
Her most outrageous view, and she’s had a few, has been to identify the millennia-old Jewish tradition that began in the First Temple, of separating the sexes during religious services, as a hostile segregation of women. She applied the same unyielding and un-Jewish insight to several other situations in which she ruled against separating between the sexes even when it was women who asked for it.
In an interview that was published recently in the judges’ internal newsletter, Baron referred to gender segregation in the public sphere, and claimed that “gender segregation is nothing but a practice of excluding women and it embodies a stereotypical perception of women as those who ‘disturb’ men from learning, and all this under the auspices of the state and in the public sphere.”
She stressed that “the degree of protection given to women’s rights serves as a litmus test for the democratic regime as a whole, and it is food for thought for all of us.”
Her war against the separation of the sexes spread to areas where many women have sought protection from harassment through separation, such as in bathing. In October 2020 Baron was on a High Court of Justice panel that ordered the municipality of Kiryat Arba to allow mixed swimming for women and men in the city’s public pool. The ruling followed a petition submitted by four residents of the settlement who complained that the pool offered no mixed bathing hours.
The petition made sense since a public pool should also provide for families to bathe together. But Baron’s opinion treated an issue that required a minor schedule change with the zeal of a social reformer, suggesting that “the coercion of segregated bathing leads to a real violation of the petitioners’ right to dignity, which is a fundamental right that has been constitutionally anchored in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom, which is a supreme value in any democratic concept that respects human rights.”
No, it really isn’t. At issue was not the abuse of women’s right to pool time – the facility’s management divided the hours equally between men and women. All the petitioners were asking for was family swimming time for those who enjoyed it.
But according to Justice Baron, opening the gates of the pool for bathing only on separate hours “implies gender discrimination – since this is a prohibited distinction in the provision of services to the public, based on the criterion of sex.” And she added in Mad Hatter fashion: “Separation between men and women in the public space is offensive in itself, as it is known that ‘separate is never equal.'”
In other words, even when women receive the same number of pool hours as men, because it is a separation based on sex women are always discriminated against. Baron’s kind of extremist “liberalism” explains the zeal of the hundreds of anarchists who last Yom Kippur assaulted groups of praying Jews in 18 spots around Tel Aviv because they were divided into men’s and women’s groups. Mind you, it wasn’t that the women’s section was behind the men’s, as is common in most synagogues – it was women beside men. Men on the left, and women on the right, how does that constitute discrimination against women?
Baron was part of the High Court’s effort to thwart Haredi men’s aspirations for higher education, despite all the leftist politicians’ platitudes about how Haredi men must get higher education to join the job market. To cater to those Haredi men’s needs, Israeli universities created special classes for men only, and with only male professors. In July 2021, Barron was on the High Court of Justice panel that overturned the policy that banned female lecturers from teaching male-only programs.
But while the panel recommended that the Higher Education Council (HEC) create special, gender-segregated study programs to increase the integration of the Haredi public in the academy, Baron wrote a minority opinion that all gender-segregated curriculum should be canceled because, according to her, it entails a disproportionate harm to the principle of equality and the dignity of women.
Borrowing from the 1954 Brown v. the Board of Education, Baron was a maximalist on the idea that whenever the government makes the claim of offering “separate but equal” services, it is always at the expense of one of the sides: US blacks in Kansas never enjoyed an equal separate education, ergo female Israeli university students cannot possibly enjoy equal education when a group of Haredi yeshiva graduates are studying math and English in a separate room.
WOMEN IN THE SPECIAL FORCES
Last June Baron, together with Court President Hayut and Justice Ruth Ronen issued an injunction ordering the state to explain why the pilot program of integrating women into elite IDF units is taking place in only two units and does not open the selection process of all the elite units to women.
The Jewish Press has published numerous articles on two key issues regarding women’s service in combat units: 1. Women may suffer irreparable harm from participating in grueling physical missions; and 2. The training programs significantly reduce the physical requirements for women compared to men in the same program. And if you find an inherent contradiction between the two, you are right, and yet both are still true: despite the reduced toil, many women still suffer irreparable harm to their bodies from combat service.
But the trio of female justices took the debate to the next level, becoming involved in military policy and dictating to the IDF how to conduct its programs. The three criticized the fact that the pilots of integrating women into combat units in the IDF only took place in the Special Missions Engineering Unit (Yhalom) and the Air Force’s Search Rescue 669 Unit.
By issuing their directive to the Army, the three female judges voiced their agreement with the petitioners’ claims and transferred the burden of proof to the state.
Following the order, last month Chief of Staff Hertzi Halevi announced his decision to also open the elite unit Sayeret Matkal to women who would qualify. He also announced another pilot, this time in the Armored Corps, moving women from defensive armored assignments along Israel’s borders to active participation in the regular armored units.
DEFENDER OF TERRORISTS
In April 2003, Baron lost her eldest son, Ran, a 22-year-old musician, in a terrorist attack at the Mike’s Place club on the Tel Aviv Promenade. This tragedy may or may not explain her one-sided support for the interests of terrorist murderers.
Baron opposed the demolition of terrorists’ homes and believed that the court’s ruling that permitted the demolitions should be changed. While the court’s ruling was in effect, Baron ruled against demolishing homes where the terrorist’s family members resided and insisted on considering the family members’ knowledge of the terrorist’s intention to carry out the attack and their attitude about it after the attack. She insisted that when family members were not involved in the act of terrorism, had no constructive knowledge of the terrorist’s murderous intentions, and did not express support for the subsequent attack, the violation of their rights in her opinion was disproportionate and therefore she believed that the demolition should be prevented in these cases.
Because, as we all know, the family members of terrorists never lie.
In February 2020, Baron sat on an expanded panel of the High Court of Justice that heard an appeal against the Election Commission’s decision not to allow Balad Party MK Heba Yazbak to run in the coming elections. Several parties had demanded that Yazbak be banned from running under the electoral law banning candidates who openly support armed struggle against Israel after she posted on Facebook that Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar was a martyr.
The 9-judge panel was split, and it was Baron’s vote that allowed Yazbak to run. She wrote in her opinion: “Horrifying images of bodies lying next to exploded buses and of places of entertainment that have become scenes of terror and murder do not fade over the years and will remain burned in our hearts forever.” However, she added that there remained a doubt in her mind regarding Yazbak’s support for an armed struggle against Israel, and that “this doubt works against her disqualification from running in the Knesset elections.”
In Justice Baron’s worldview, women always deserve the benefit of the doubt – men never do. As the court is slowly being cleansed from the vestiges of Justice Aharon Barak’s judicial tyranny, let us hope that a wise right-wing government will have the courage to replace them not with right-wing extremists, but with conservative centrists who will recognize the nuances between the repression of women and the attempts to find a benign co-existence for women and men; and be able to bolster the Jewish State and not its most foul detractors.