This week it is Hanukah, the Jewish Festival of Light, with candles being lit daily and jelly donuts being eaten in large quantities. Children are on vacation and in regular years, in most municipalities, theater shows are held for their entertainment. This year, with the Corona limitations, the shows are still being organized but will be broadcast, on TV or in local settings.
The shows are subsidized by the “Jewish Culture Department” in the Ministry for Higher Education and, according to a newspaper report in Haaretz, the criteria for funding are unclear except for one decisive requirement: the show needs to adhere strictly to Orthodox Jewish and/or right-wing orientation. The result is very straightforward: most of these children shows do not feature women. Apparently, the Jewish Culture Department is of the opinion that children should be taught early on that women should not sing, women should not dance, women should not act, women should not entertain.
The issue of the exclusion of women in Israeli society under the pressure of religious circles is nothing new and probably getting worse. Nowadays it is routine that in Army Ceremonies such as completion of courses etc., the entertainment is always men only. A musical event to celebrate in Tel Aviv the 70th birthday of Shlomo Artzi, a well-known Israeli singer last year was to exclude female singers and was cancelled only after this limitation became known and several planned participants, including the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, withdrew their support. The ministry of “Social Equality” in the Israeli government, led by Ms. Meirav Cohen, works, according to its web site, “to promote populations of senior citizens, the young, women, and minorities”, but if across the street, at the Higher Education Ministry, the exclusion of women is actively being supported and funded, the promotion of equality of women becomes an almost impossible challenge and likely also politically very difficult.
The exclusion of women finds a violent expression in Jerusalem in particular, where even the depiction of women is hazardous. Last week the city was adorned by beautiful large photographs of women football players, which beside its impressive beauty also had a message: “To Make Room for Women in the Public Space”. Unfortunately, the Jerusalem population could enjoy them only for a short while and rapidly the large posters were vandalized and the figures of the women players blacked out. No doubt the police issued statements that an investigation is taking place and that every effort is being made to apprehend the perpetrators, but isn’t that just lip service? You really don’t need very impressive detective skills to know who the vandals are, what they look like and where they live. But detective skills are useless if the intention is to do nothing anyway.
Vandalism of this sort is not new in Jerusalem. Bus companies in the Capital refuse to carry on their vehicles advertising that shows women, because they know the buses will be damaged. The absurdity has reached such levels that advertising agencies today develop two types of advertising posters. One for Jerusalem and one for the rest of the country, with the Jerusalem version devoid of women.
Looking at the big picture, the influence of religion in Israel has always been way beyond what may be and should be expected in a Democratic State, with religious restrictions being imposed on the general population with limitations on practically every facet of modern living, from transportation to entertainment to interpersonal relations. The political situation has for many years now, placed the Haredi parties in a key position, even when they are relatively small, and the result has been repeated capitulation by Israeli governments to their demands. The handling of the Corona crisis is just one painful example of this.
But the exclusion of women is a different issue altogether. The time has come to end this discriminatory behavior, which excludes women not because of their abilities or talents, but because they are women. Religious men start their day with a number of blessings, including this one: “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe who has not created me a woman.” Without interfering in the beliefs of anyone, or their prayers, isn’t this a bit outdated? Women politicians, even within the political limitations that exist, have enough power in the Knesset to make their voice heard more forcefully and no doubt quite a few of their male colleagues would join them. It appears not sufficient anymore to bring up the subject of exclusion every now and then without taking it far enough to force the hand of the government and work to end this.
So what are our female politicians waiting for? It appears they are not waiting for anything. They all are aware of the systematic exclusion of women, and they are all aware that if they want to prematurely end their political career, this is the issue to deal with. No political party (with the exception maybe of Meretz), will want to have its name or the name of one of their Knesset members, connected to activity to control religious dominance in Israeli life in general, and not to the exclusion of women in particular.
Even the public at large, (women rights organizations excluded), does not give any indication that they want something seriously done about religious coercion, and the slogan “we are all Jews” comes to mind. So, if a man in Israel, will not protest the exclusion of his mother, his sister, his wife, his daughter, simply because “we are all Jews”, no progress in ending religious coercion in Israel will be made, and the situation will deteriorate whereby in the end, also men will be seriously affected. But by then, it will be too late.
Will it then still be a blessing to be a man?
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