Sunday, 8 January 2012

Women flashing in Beit Shemesh

Originally found on +972 Magazine, I would like to share this amazing example of the women of Beit Shemesh showing that they will not sit idly by while Haredi extremists spit at school children and try to violently impose their rigid world view on the rest of society. Well done and col ha kavod to all the women, religious and secular, who participated in this flash mob.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Ladies, please!

There's been a lot happening recently over in that sliver of land at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa (what continent is Israel in anyway? answers on a postcard please...). There's no way I, a rather lazy (recently) blogger could even hope to cover everything, so I'm going to focus on one for the girls.

A friend of mine recently started a Facebook group called Peaceful Women, aimed at encouraging women from a cross-section of ethnic-religious backgrounds to exchange ideas, thoughts and information and to begin to forge friendships. The idea behind this is that as women are thought to be the gentler sex, that a women-only forum would be a good place to begin to forge peace connections. 

It is interesting that women (myself included) have happily joined, without questioning the women-only nature of the group. It is particularly interesting as it comes at a time when gender politics has reared its head in Israel in the context of the Haredi gender segregation that is creeping ever more into the public sphere.

There have been, on my count, three examples of gender segregation encroaching further into public space in Israel in recent weeks. Firstly, the news that in Mea Shearim, the street itself was to have a mechitza (separation barrier) erected to allow men and women to pass freely but separately in the streets during Sukkot. I was unsure how I felt about this. After all, it was taking place within a strictly ultra-orthodox community, where, as far as I am aware, the only reason for a non-ultra-orthodox person to be there is to gawp at the curiosities of this insular community.

Then, within a few weeks of this news story, I heard about the increasing practice of defacing  advertisements in Jerusalem that featured women. This vandalism has led some advertising agencies and their clients towards self-censorship - cropping women out of photos (Honnigman) or excluding them altogether (the campaign for organ donors), but also to an increasingly loud female voice condemning this development. Jerusalem's Mayor Nir Barakat has condemned the vandalism and encouraged the police to deal with incidents that arise, whilst also firing Rachel Azaria, a Jerusalem councilwoman who had appealed to the Supreme Court against the Mea Shearim barrier. This strangely contradictory behaviour looked to all and sundry as Barakat capitulating to ultra-orthodox pressure (see article). They are, after all an increasing proportion of the population, and in Jerusalem they are a significant constituency in municipal elections.

The most recent, and highly publicised example of gender segregation 'crossing the line' is the ongoing bus saga. There have been a number of reports of women being pressured into sitting at the back of public buses that serve ultra-orthodox areas. The gender segregation on certain lines is not news, in the sense that it is not new, but in the current climate in which gender segregation has spread beyond the buses, it has become newsworthy. Tanya Rosenblit's experience has been widely read online and even the Daily Mail here in the UK has joined in, stating that "Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up about 10 percent of Israel's population of 7.6 million, have become increasingly aggressive in their efforts to impose their norms in public spaces."

Indeed, the bus issue has become a key issue, even Bibi has stated that "Fringe groups must not be allowed to tear apart our common denominator. We must preserve public space as open and free for all citizens of Israel." (longer article here

It seems that even within the ultra-orthodox community, opinion is divided as to whether such gender separation needs to be enforced. I've read a number of talkbacks where representatives of the 'silent majority' defend ultra-orthodoxy in general. I'm also aware that within the ultra-orthodox community it is often the strictest interpretation that goes unchallenged. However, this issue will not go away and divisions between the ultra-orthodox, religious and secular Israelis are only going to widen if the 'silent majority' remains silent.
I don't have a solution. Perhaps the private bus line suggested by a group of ultra-orthodox millionaires is the answer (full article), although this would still be considered 'public space'. However, isn't a synagogue also  public space? No-one questions the separation of men and women there. I hope a live and let live solution can be found where neither the secular or religious impose their rules on each other. However, I must include the caveat that religious women (those within the silent majority perhaps?) themselves shouldn't feel coerced or forced into behaviour with which they disagree or which makes them feel isolated.

er... hang on... isn't THIS gender segregation in a public place???

Goodness, that's a long post. I am now going to watch the rather excellent Simon Sebag-Montifiore's programme on the history of Jerusalem on BBC4. There's been some excellent programming on the BBC about Jerusalem recently. In addition to this history series, I very much enjoyed Yotam Ottolenghi's 'Jerusalem on a Plate' - next time I will post some positive, happy news about that special city.


Monday, 14 November 2011

Special friends

Something a little light-hearted as I summon up the energy to write a proper post, I know it's been a while. This is a very funny and more than a little poignant Israeli advert that a friend of mine posted on Facebook today. I know that the strap line of "In real life this is impossible... but on the internet these kinds of relationships are created every day" is very true - I see these friendships every day on my own Facebook page and the pages of the Groups that forge these links between people. Nice one Barak013.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Preferential treatment ... awesome (!)

So we are now in the Days of Awe, the ten day period between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur when we Jews are supposed to, among other things, request forgiveness from those we feel we have wronged. Now, I am by no means a religious Jew - I observe little and break many commandments - but I am Jewish enough to have what I believe to be the correct interpretation of this practice.

Now, call me a cynic, but I believe that if you are sincere in asking forgiveness for a wrong done unto another person, you should demonstrate that by having the courage to face that person and admit your wrongdoing. That is, surely, the hardest element of apology and one that would be appreciated by the person to whom you are apologising, thus aiding the process of them agreeing to forgive you. The bizarre (in my view) Haredi practice of kaparot serves to deflect attention from the sin, and means that the sinner (for we are all sinners) tends not to have to be so introspective about his or her (but probably his, I would guess - do women perform kaparot?) sins as the chicken-spinning (I mean really, who came up with this idea??) serves as a sin-catcher for those sins we cannot remember.

super flying chicken

So apologising has definitely been in the news in Israel lately. What with the apology/admission to Egypt regarding the killing of Egyptian soldiers, who may or may not have been aiding the suspected attackers in the south of Israel last month. And the non-apology to Turkey for the killing of the 9 Turkish citizens aboard the Mavi Marmara, who may or may not have been intending to provoke just such a reaction from the IDF paratroopers who were sent to stop them breaking the siege on Gaza/defend Israel's sovereignty (it all depends on your perspective). I wonder if Bibi is doing any introspective thinking these days? For all the posturing of Erdogan in his not-so-hidden intentions of becoming the major player in the region, surely an apology, even if worded as "collateral damage" -  literally to keep the peace - could have been forthcoming from Israel? Unfortunately, with the official line being that the siege on Gaza is necessary for Israeli security, an apology for the deaths of those who came with violent intentions to breach that security will be a long time coming.

In more recent news has been, of course, the Palestinian bid for UN recognition of statehood. This has been opposed by the Israeli government primarily on the grounds that as a unilateral move by the Palestinians, it threatens Israeli security (again). The bid is also based on UN Resolution 181 (also known as the 1947 UN Partition Plan) and as such, these borders, if recognised, would consequently reduce Israeli territory. Significantly.

Israel's staunch ally, the USA, has also opposed the unilateral nature of the Palestinian bid and threatened to use its veto at the Security Council if necessary. At this point it may be worthwhile to remember two things. Firstly, Obama made many grand statements at the beginning of his term about reaching a final settlement in this conflict and establishing a long-overdue Palestinian state. Secondly, that the same USA is supposed to be an even-handed player in Middle East negotiations.

Recent events show both of these to be untrue. The threat of veto actually pales in comparison to the actual withdrawal, since August, of American aid  "designated for a wide range of humanitarian, educational and state capacity building projects" in the Palestinian Authority- apparently because of Abbas's intransigence in the face of American pressure to withdraw the statehood bid, as well as the (failed) attempt of Fatah and Hamas to reconcile their differences.

If these things are punishable inasmuch as they work against the US Administration's vision of how a peace agreement and Palestinian state should be achieved, then what of the Israeli government's continued (unilateral) expansion and development of settlements in occupied territory? Surely this is worth censure? or, dare I say, even punishment? Even Bush Snr had the balls to withold loan guarantees from Shamir's government because he saw that the money was paying for settlements that would continue to prevent peace being made (never mind the loud message of "fuck you" it sent to the Palestinians and the world). As Adam Keller points out in his excellent article, America's days as key Middle East negotiator are surely numbererd, in no small part because of the blind eye they turn to Israel's activity in the territories. What is needed is a strong ally - one who, as a true friend, isn't afraid to tell Israel that what she is doing is manifestly against her own interests.

Come on Obama, don't be a chicken.