Israel, Justice

What’s Going On with Women in Israel?

This is a guest post by Naomi Paiss, Communications Director for the New Israel Fund.
Today, a full-page advertisement supporting the New Israel Fund will appear in the New York Times. Paid for by a generous donor who is launching a matching-gift campaign, the ad features a news photo of an actual billboard in Jerusalem, with a poster of a woman’s face that has been clawed and defaced by ultra-Orthodox extremists. The ad specifically references the troubling growth of gender segregation and the exclusion of women in Israel, a phenomenon now in the public eye but not yet defeated.
In his defense of Israeli democracy last week, Ambassador Michael Oren wrote that “gender equality, not prejudice, remains an Israeli hallmark,” and cited the numerous women serving in the Knesset and in other leadership roles.  Stipulated and granted.  And it was heartening to see, after Secretary of State Clinton criticized gender-segregated buses and other evidence of a troubling turn towards repression of women, that so many Israeli leaders stepped forward to defend women’s equality as intrinsic to Israeli society.
But words and deeds differ.  The Israel Broadcasting Authority just permitted Kol Barama, the haredi radio station, to reduce the number of hours of women on the air from six to four – weekly. Groups of  ultra-Orthodox men are approaching female passengers on El-Al, requesting to switch seats.  Israeli women still earn only 66% of men’s wages, and women with higher education degrees earn 77% of the wages earned by their male counterparts.  And a special report commissioned by Cabinet Minister Limor Livnat and an inter-ministerial committee on the subject of exclusion of women is filled with high-sounding declarations, but very little in the way of policy change or budget.
In this atmosphere, the organizations supported by the New Israel Fund are more important than ever.  Long responsible for various aspects of feminist social change, these organizations find that their strategies must now take the growth of religious extremism into account.  Organizations focused on women’s education are responding to the increase in single-gender schools in the religious sector, or schools that attempt to exclude Mizrachi or Ethiopian students. The Israel Religious Action Center, the activist arm of the Reform movement in Israel, researched and published an exhaustive report on gender segregation. Kolech, the feminist Orthodox organization, staffed a hotline for Orthodox women to report involuntary segregation on buses and other public spaces, and led the successful attempt to persuade the Israeli Medical Association to boycott a conference on women’s fertility issues in which women were barred from speaking.
The new pluralism group Yisroel Hofshit (Be Free Israel) has established local activist groups in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beer Sheva, Haifa and Ra’anana, and is working closely with NIF to restore the sight and sound of women to the public sphere in Israel.  Yerushalmim (“Jerusalemites”), a vibrant coalition of secular and pluralistic Jerusalem residents, ran a public campaign to restore images of women and girls to the streets of the city, hanging pictures of women from balconies in the city.  (One of these defaced campaign posters is the centerpiece of the New York Times ad.)  This campaign was later expanded by New Israel Fund supporters overseas who sent their photos for a “Woman Should Be Seen and Heard” campaign, resulting in another 50 posters of women’s images appearing in Jerusalem.
With the current governing coalition heavily dependent on ultra-Orthodox support, it appears that official measures against gender segregation will be cut to fit political reality.  Since many ultra-Orthodox commentators have claimed that the new push to exclude women is a fringe phenomenon, NIF and its civil society groups hope to find ways to work with the mainstream Orthodox community on gender issues in ways that are respectful of the community’s traditions. In the meantime, we continue to monitor, respond to and publicize the continuing and disturbing trend of gender segregation and exclusion in Israel.

10 thoughts on “What’s Going On with Women in Israel?

  1. Thank you for your post which summarizes so many important issues. Noteworthy are the many examples of exclusion and discrimination in the public sphere which you cited.
    (One small comment: Including the weak example of Haredim requesting women to change their seats on El Al may actually diminish the strength of the other examples.)
    Joel Katz

  2. Many have said (and I agree) that your boycott of the Machon Puah conference hindered their ability to help chareidi women. The organization tries to build bridges with the chareidi community so women can have access to information they need to get the best possible medical care when it comes to issues of fertility. Having a compromise of no women speakers at one of their many conferes in order to achieve that goal seems to me to be the lesser evil.

  3. Give us a break. The feminist organizations in Israel do not support gender equality. They support female supremacy. All feminist organizations in Israel support automatic custody of children to mothers only, full exemption of women from child support, hate propaganda against men that all men are violent, and they actively support disengagement of children from fathers, fatherlesness, and the encouragement of family break ups, in applause of single mother families. Those supporting female organizations are committing male bashing and crimes against humanity and the torture of divorced men in Israel. Israel is the most feminist/anti-male jurisdiction on the planet.

  4. Why won’t those brave NIF’ers put up an ad like that on a wall in Kiryas Joel?
    That’s Kiryas Joel, NY.
    That’s Kiryas Joel, NY, USA
    Much better to put up an ad on the dead tree version of a newspaper, read by all the nice AK’s in Manhattan.
    KJ has a median age of 11, BTW
    One group has children. The other has ads.
    We’ll see who wins.

  5. The interesting thing here is that mainstream Israeli society is becoming increasingly alarmed at the growth of ultra-orthodox extremism and it’s impact on their democracy, especially that of women. The irony here is that democracy in Israel is already a fallacy, since Israeli Arabs and Christians do not enjoy the full fruits of citizenship. Israel wishes to be recognized as a Jewish State and calls itself the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’ Sorry, it can’t be both.

  6. An interesting conversation started on my Facebook wall about whether progressive organizations have an obligation not to demonize countries like Iran, even despite its woeful record on women’s exclusion.

  7. “Demonize” seems to connote exaggerating or fabricating the country’s misdeeds, I agree that we should stick to the truth. But if the intention is to turn a blind eye to mistreatment of Women or any other group of civilians, than I don’t see how such a position can be defended on moral grounds.

  8. The only thing more ironic than the fact that these groups are actually trying to keep women from being objectified, is the fact that those who falsely equate the situation of women in Israel to that of non-Jews & Arabs are LYING. The truth is the only way to peace: demonizing Israel with lies will only make it worse.

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