Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger on Sunday both harshly criticized the mounting attempts at gender segregation in the Israeli society, after a female passenger refused an ultra- orthodox man's demand to move to the back of an intercity public bus, Xinhua reported.
When the woman refused to change her seat on an Egged national bus line on the Ashdod-Jerusalem route, the man held the door of the bus open for 30 minutes until the police arrived to settle the issue.
Netanyahu, speaking at the weekly cabinet session, called for national unity against groups that he said threaten "the fabric of our society."
"Israeli society is a mosaic composed of Jews and Arabs, secular and ultra-orthodox, and until today we have agreed on peaceful coexistence and mutual respect among all sectors," Netanyahu said, according to a press release from his office.
The prime minister added that "marginal groups cannot be allowed to dismantle our common denominator, and we must maintain the public space as an open and safe for all Israelis."
Female exclusion from public areas has been a raging topic in Israel for many weeks, after a few religious army soldiers walked out of a concert where female soldiers were singing.
Rights groups have complained about what they charge the growing gender inequality in Israel, especially in Jerusalem, where, they say, religious zealots are trying to push women out of the public sphere.
"We need to look for what unites and bridges, not what divides and separates, and this is how we will act," Netanyahu said.
Meanwhile, Metzger told Army radio that ultra-orthodox groups do not have the right to force adherence to their customs of having men and women sit separately in public settings, including on buses and other transportation.
"This state does not belong to the haredi community," he said, using the Hebrew term for the minority of devoutly observant Jews.
"If we want there to be segregation, it would be legitimate for us to establish our own transportation company," according to Metzger, adding that "We (the ultra-Orthodox) don't have the authority to force our ideas on others."