Women who arrived last week at the "Management Forum" organized by ultra-Orthodox newspaper Hamodia say they were not allowed to participate in the event, which was intended exclusively for men.
The women claim they weren't even offered a "women's gallery" at the end of the auditorium, and those who insisted were sent to watch the conference in a side room through closed-circuit television. "It was humiliating and incomprehensible," one of them says.
The economic conference was held for the sixth year in a row at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (ICC) and was attended by directors of the Israeli economy's leading companies.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Bank Hapoalim CEO Zion Keinan addressed the audience during the conference. Women were banned from the stage, from the audience and even from the press gallery.
Two Ynet reporters invited to cover the event tried to enter the auditorium accompanied by a woman, but were stopped by the security guards.
"It was frightening to discover that I am not allowed to enter a public place just because I am a woman," S. recounted the incident. "I'm very angry at the business bodies taking part in such an event. This is a dangerous phenomenon for the Israeli society, and I hope people wake up before it's too late."
'Watch it on closed-circuit TV'
A secular female reporter who arrived to cover the event said she was stopped at the entrance and told that the event was only for men. "I explained that I was there to cover it, but to no avail. They suggested that the news desk send a different reporter – a man.
"He offered to let my team in, as it they were all men, and after another conversation they suggested that I watch the conference through closed-circuit TV from a room at the back entrance… It's incomprehensible that this can happen in central Jerusalem."
M., a young haredi woman working in marketing, tried to enter the conference too, but was unsuccessful.
"I also wanted to listen to the lectures delivered there, but realized I wouldn't be able to get in," she told Ynet. "It saddened and angered me that I couldn't receive the information. I would have expected them to find a way to let women participate in this conference too."
'It was a private function'
The conference organizers confirmed that women were refused entry, explaining on behalf of Hamodia and the production company that the event was a private function for a public with certain values, and that women were banned for modesty reasons.
The added that this was not a case of sexual discrimination, as Hamodia organized conference exclusively for women twice a year.
The Jerusalem Municipality, a part owner of the ICC, said in response that the business body decides independently for which events it rents out the auditorium, which is fully paid for without the municipality's intervention or funding.
Addressing the issue, the municipality said in a statement, "We see nothing wrong with a private haredi body renting an auditorium in the city for a private function, matching the needs of its target audience in its nature.
"Our inquiry revealed that this was a private and closed event of Hamodia newspaper for haredi institution managers. The newspaper rented the auditorium, and the only people allowed to enter were those invited by the newspaper. Officials who were not invited were not allowed in, regardless of whether they were men or women."
The Jewish Agency, another part owner of the ICC, said in response: "The organizers of the events at the Convention Center are the ones who determine who will be invited to each event, so you should direct your query to them.
"We won't tell haredim how to live their lives. The Agency and its institutions have seculars and haredim, Reform and Orthodox Jews, Argentineans, Russians and Americans."
Mickey Gitzin, director of the Be Free movement, told Ynet that "whoever thought the exclusion would stop with the segregated bus lines realizes now that this is a much wider phenomenon taking place in conferences and community centers.
"It's important to remember that the Convention Center is not a private institution, but is subsidized by the Jerusalem Municipality and Jewish Agency, who should condemn and prevent such phenomena."
The ICC and Bank Hapoalim refused to comment on this report.