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Israeli Women Fight Orthodox Curbs

Graffiti in Jerusalem on the position of women. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS.

JERUSALEM, Sep 6 2012 (IPS) - After filing the first-ever class-action lawsuit on the issue of gender segregation in Israel, a local religious women’s rights group says it hopes to protect the rights of women in the public sphere of Israeli society.

“It’s a way to stop the phenomenon. Usually we just talk about (discrimination against women) and nothing happens. When people will understand that it’s going to cost them a lot of money, we hope that things are going to change,” Riki Shapira, legal advisor and board member of Kolech, the first Orthodox Jewish feminist organisation in Israel tells IPS.

Kolech filed a NIS 104 million (25.8 million dollar) class action lawsuit on Aug. 29 against Kol Berama, an ultra-Orthodox radio station in Jerusalem. The organisation argues that Kol Berama discriminates against women by forbidding women’s voices from being heard on any of the station’s programmes.

“The issue of this is very symbolic; it’s their voice on the radio station and their voice in the world. Nobody sees them and nobody hears them,” says Shapira.

According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, in its response to the lawsuit, Kol Berama called on the petitioners to respect “the beliefs and outlook of the majority of the (ultra-Orthodox) community, men and women together.”

But not everyone in the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, community – which makes up approximately ten percent of the Israeli population – supports the radio station’s decision to exclude women from the airwaves.

A 37-year-old ultra-Orthodox man who gave his name as Moshe (not his real name) spoke to IPS on condition of anonymity. He says he is opposed to gender discrimination within his community.

“The radio station doesn’t give a voice to women, even when women are the issue being discussed. It’s a shame that their voices are being silenced,” he tells IPS. “There are a lot of different voices within the Haredi community. I don’t claim to know how many people think this and that way, but I know a lot that think like me.”

A Jerusalem native, he says that women’s rights are worsening, largely due to people becoming more religious, and extremist groups trying to control the ultra-Orthodox community. “Women should have the same rights as men,” he says.

Indeed, many instances of gender segregation have been reported in Israel in recent months. In July, a court awarded a teenage girl NIS 13,000 after two ultra-Orthodox men forced her to sit at the back of a bus, despite the fact that gender separation is illegal on public transportation in Israel.

The incident occurred in Beit Shemesh, a town located some 30 kilometres from Jerusalem, which has recently been a hotbed of religious-based harassment and intimidation of women. In December 2011, an eight-year-old Israeli girl was spat on for supposedly “dressing immodestly” while on her way to school there.

In August, Israeli bus company Egged quietly decided not to use any images of people in advertisements featured on the sides of buses in Jerusalem. The company took the decision, according to Israeli media reports, so as to avoid offending the city’s ultra-Orthodox residents should the ads feature women.

“All the demands for segregation, those modesty demands, are not something that you can say that all ultra-Orthodox people agree with. Many of them are against it,” says attorney Orly Erez-Likhovski from the Israel Religious Action Centre (IRAC), a branch of the Reform Judaism movement.

“This is actually a demand which is voiced by radical sects within this ultra-Orthodox sector, and because of the nature of ultra-Orthodox life, if I’m an ultra-Orthodox person I cannot allow myself to publicly go against it.”

In a report released in January 2012, titled ‘Excluded: For God’s Sake’, IRAC documented over 50 cases of gender segregation that took place in Israel in 2011. These instances occurred on sidewalks, in health clinics, grocery stores and employment offices, at school and military graduation ceremonies, and at religious holiday events organised by local municipalities, among other places.

Erez-Likhovski says that she expects 2012 to yield a lower number of cases though, largely due to condemnations in the Israeli media and within Israeli society against gender segregation.

“There is this slippery slope that if you allow the practice of segregation in one place, it will penetrate to other places as well. People have started to realise the dangers in it. It is happening everywhere and this is why it’s so important to stop it and explain how dangerous it is,” she tells IPS.

According to Moshe, talking openly about the issue is the best way people – both religious, and secular – can overcome gender discrimination.

“There is no logic or justification (to silencing women’s voices) and it leads to a very bad place,” he says. “The more you talk about it, the more it can have a positive effect.”

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  • Poster Atat

    “There is this slippery slope that if you allow the practice of segregation in one place, it will penetrate to other places as well. People have started to realise the dangers in it. It is happening everywhere and this is why it’s so important to stop it and explain how dangerous it is,” she tells IPS.

    It’s fallacious to argue slippery slope and therefore that no line can be drawn.
    Bathrooms are an obvious example of an easy place to draw a line.

    The argument is being made as follows:

    “It’s absurd to segregate in some areas, such as a, b, and c.

    Therefore, all areas must be integrated, including prayer services.”

    The rules is: Those who argue against segregation only do so when it is what and where they want.
    When it is to the obvious advantage of the segregated, they make no argument.
    Examples: Women’s sports. Why should a male – who isn’t good enough for the men’s, be excluded from competing against women that he can beat? In other words, women get protected spots in sports even though there are men who get no spots at all, strictly because they are men and are excluded from competing against the protected SEGREGATED group, women.

    Scholarships: There are many scholarships for women that men could qualify for, but are excluded because they are men.

    The rules is: Those who argue against segregation only do so when it is what and where they want.

  • Guest

    Great post Atat, they do go a little extreme the ultra orthodox and things like spiting on Christians who support them i strongly disagree with.. However its better they are a little to extreme with women then have the feminist movement take over and ruin Israel like there ruining America and England.. Israel has a small population and has WAY less margin for mistakes then other countries.. If American would have had the world crying about Women’s rights, and unethical treatment of Indians during its founding, it would have never made it to a super power.. STAY strong and opened minded Israel! I think the world of Israeli women.. attractive, very approachable, smart, and unlike there American counterpart.. JAP “Jewish American Princesses” Humble.. Don’t blame Jewish men in American for the 70% interracial marriages!! NOT THERE FAULT!

  • Fred

    the word is “their”, not THERE. 1) learn how to spell., 2) Grow up – and leave the 9th century.
    It is NEVER better to be “a little extreme with women”. Shame, shame, shame on you. It is better that people like you, Mark, understand that you NEVER have a right to tell any woman what to think, wear, do, be, go, or to say. You simply are not part of the equation. Women themselves make their own decisions about life, and you are irrelevant. Now go and do something about these Haredim. Women will be just fine without you. And eventually, you will disappear.

  • Mark

    I have met women from Israel and they are some of the nicest, most humble, attractive, and open minded women i have ever met.. keep it that way! I don’t support Haredim! But don’t mold your country like America.. The women over here are a mess.. Super selfish.. SO why all these America Soldiers brag about how nice and attractive Israeli women are.. “I live by a military base” yet would not wish an American Jewish women on thier worst enemy.. fact of the matter its a dam good thing that billionair’s like Haim Saban, Sheldon Adelson, as well as other extremely wealthy jewish men are not married to Liberal Jewish women, or else they would deny the 100’s of millions sent your way.. If Israeli women end up like American Women or English women your country will be done.. Game over.. Hamas’s biggest weapon is to liberalize your country.. Be careful no to side with your worst enemy.. and don’t forget about the millions of potentials allies at your disposal?? The only women that i see that support Israel over here in the USA are Strong Christians.. Like i said i don’t support Hardim but its a good counter weight to the Feminist movement.. Crack down on both sides Haredim and Feminist equally is all i ask.. Like i said Many soldiers think the world of Israeli women and how pleasant, plight and thankful they are.. It makes them Proud to support Israel!

r kiyosaki