Jewfem Blog

How Israel Sees Workplace Harassment

Pretty women are like “candies” to their male bosses, and if they are sexually harassed, the pretty women should switch jobs rather than ruin the careers of high-powered men who can’t control themselves. This is the infuriating opinion expressed last week by leading Israeli current-affairs radio presenter Ayala Hasson. The conversation took place during Hasson’s radio program in which Hasson described a case that took place at a leading government office in which a woman who was sexually harassed by her boss was “discreetly and quietly” removed from her position and given an alternative post. “He wanted her like a lovely piece of candy,” Hasson said. “Every time he walked by her, there was a little pinch on the cheek or something.” Hasson argued that this is an excellent solution because, this is the only way to protect the man from getting into trouble (histabchut). This entire discussion occurred against the backdrop of new sexual harassment charges from the Prime Minister’s office. According to reports of the State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, a woman known only as “Resh” was sexually harassed by one of the leading aides to Prime Minister Binyamin Netahyahu, Natan Eshel. The accusations are pretty serious: Eshel is said to have been obsessed with R., who was working directly for him, not only by stalking her and spying on her, but even strategically placing cameras where they could photograph under her skirt. Three members of the Netanyahu’s senior staff filed complaints with Lindenstrauss — apparently unbeknownst to one another — and another four staffers have already given testimony on these events. Read more:

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How Women's Exclusion Threatens Coalition Gov't

While the Israeli public has been getting rightfully agitated about the exclusion of women from public spaces, there are other gender-segregated locations in Israel that are barely noticed but have far-reaching implications for all women. The Committee to Appoint of Rabbinical Judges (dayanim) is, for the first time in more than a decade (since women’s groups started protesting the issue), is an exclusively male panel. Yet the government is wringing its hands, as the coalition remains hostage, once again, to the entrenched sexism of religious parties. The rabbinical courts are one of the most fiercely gender-segregated institutions in Israel. Women are not only forbidden from being judges — a viciously anti-democratic regulation that might go unnoticed save for the fact that every single marriage and divorce in Israel needs the approval of rabbinical judges — they are also prevented from taking administrative roles in managing the system. And the absence of women on the Committee to Appoint Dayanim is clearly a matter of convention and control rather than of religious law. Women can and should take on at the very least ancillary role in the rabbinical courts, but it’s been an uphill battle. A bid last year to have a woman appointed as executive director of the rabbinical courts failed. And now, for the first time since the Bar Association nominated Sharon Shenhav as a representative on the Committee to Appoint Dayanim 12 years ago, the committee is all male once again — the bar association having nominated a man for its open slot last year. The rabbinical court, a body that has enormous power to determine people’s personal status, a power that is wielded predominantly Haredi judges throughout Israel, is thus without any female say. Two months ago, Emunah petitioned the High Court to force a woman to be on the committee — a move that has legally stalled the appointment of all dayanim. And this past Sunday, the ministerial committee that decides which bills move forward in the Knesset discussed legislation put forth by the International Coalition for Agunah Rights, or ICAR, which proposes that two slots on the Committee be reserved for women. Read more:

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Is this about the exclusion of women, or hatred of haredim?

Israeli women are stirring. For the first time in Israel’s history, we are witnessing a mass women’s protest movement using some fascinating and inspiring tools of civil disobedience. This sudden eruption of sentiment for gender equality is perhaps simply late in coming, a generation or two behind its American counterpart from the 1960s and 1970s. Or perhaps it is not merely a late arrival but an entirely different animal. It is both similar to and vastly different from feminist revolutions that preceded it, a product not only of the universal need for equality but also of the particular, local cholent that we call Israeli society. The movement is in some ways fueled by classic feminist spirit, but in some ways driven by diverse and perhaps dubious motives that may have little to do with women’s issues. To be sure, the grass-roots activities of nonviolent protest that are emerging from dozens of corners around Israel would make Gandhi proud. In response to segregation on buses, for example there are now “Freedom Rides”, organized by IRAC, in which small groups of men and women ride buses and sit unsegregated. In response to soldiers’ refusal to listen to women sing, a group called “Be Free Israel” organized an event called “Singing for Equality” in which the weapon of choice was women’s voices in song. In response to the destruction of pictures of women on billboards, the New Israel Fund organized an activity called “Women should be seen and heard” in which women are hanging photographs of themselves on balcony posters. This is in some ways a classic movement of civil disobedience, one that women in Israel have never really tried before, and it is truly budding from the ground up. The energy is phenomenal, and it feels like quite an exciting time to be a woman in Israel. Women are finally speaking up and being heard. Politicians from all corners are responding with initiatives, bill proposals and provocative statements of support.  Things are happening, and they are starting with the voice of the people. It is significant, however, that thus far all the targets of protest are practices are haredi.  Perhaps this is because the practices in question are so very backward and anti-democratic that they seem to cross all boundaries of normalcy. An event last week, for example, in which the Ministry of Health held an award ceremony and refused to allow one of the recipients to appear on stage to receive her award is beyond ludicrous. There is a real sense that practices being promoted as “sensitive” to the religious world are simply relics of the dark ages. That government officials regularly capitulate to such demands for “sensitivity” sparks a justified outrage, as if an entire ethos of democracy, civility, and human rights is being sold off to the most outrageous religious fanatics. Perhaps this is catching on as a movement because people relate not so much to the gender issue but to the fear of widespread religious coercion. Indeed, some of...

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At Gynecology Conference, No Women Allowed

Imagine a medical conference dedicated to women’s bodies in which no women are allowed to speak or even sit in the audience. No, this is not a Victorian novel or the back room of an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club. This is Israel 2012. For the fourth year in a row, Pu’ah, a publicly funded organization dealing with gynecology, fertility and Jewish law, or halacha, is set to hold their annual medical conference on January 11 in a setting completely devoid of actual women.  Women are excluded as conference presenters on fertility, medicine, or Jewish law, and barred from even sitting in the crowd. Over the past three years, Kolech has written petitions, gone to the media, and turned to medical professionals asking them not to participate “This year, for the first time, people are taking an interest, and maybe something will happen,” Kolech’s founder, Dr. Hanna Kehat, said.  “Women of knowledge, understanding and authority in the relevant areas are excluded,” the letter reads. “We expect you to exclude yourself as well and let Puah know that your conscience does not allow you to participate.”  Read more:

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What 'Provocative' Justifies

I would like to take a moment to consider provocative women. After all, those of us who are following events in Beit Shemesh have heard a lot about this subject. A woman trying to hail a taxi in Beit Shemesh and then spat upon was called “provocative” by Haredi men around her. Tanya Rosenblit, who sat in the front seat of a segregated bus from Ashdod to Jerusalem, was accused of being “provocative” by those men who stopped the bus from proceeding on its route. Even 8-year-old Na’ama Margolese was accused of being “provocative.” In my doctoral research, in which I spent three years in a state religious girls’ high school in Israel working on decoding girls’ identities, I came upon accusations of “provocative” in some telling moments. One day, the school held a special “Tzniut Day” in which there was an assembly and special classes on the issue of “modesty.” (It was actually about girls’ clothing and I do wish that people would stop calling that “modesty,” as if there is anything remotely connected between body cover and humility before God.) The rabbi speaking to the class framed the issue around teaching the girls not to be “provocative” by, for example, revealing one’s upper arms. Read more:

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Women Barred From Funerals in Israel

     The troubling phenomenon of excluding women from cemeteries in Israel appears to be getting worse. Last week, Tal Yehezkeli of the IDF radio station Galei Tzahal broke the story of Rosie Davidian, who was not allowed to deliver a eulogy at her father’s funeral. Yehezkeli then reportedly received dozens of calls and emails from women around the country who have had similar experiences. In Jerusalem, women have been prevented from delivering eulogies. ‫ ‬ In Yerucham, Yavneh, and Elyachin, women were not allowed to accompany the deceased to the burial. In Petach Tivka, Nahariya and Tiberias, the crowd was forced into gender segregation despite the protestations of the families. All of these incidents are against the law, specifically the High Court (Bagatz) 2007 ruling that prohibits the exclusion of women from any aspect of funerals and burials. No less than eight cities are breaking the law, according to Yehezkeli, and women are furious. Read more:

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For the First Time, a Woman Is Named JNF's Head Forest Ranger

The history of modern Israel can arguably be told through its trees.

Forested landmarks mark battles, settlements, roads and monuments, each of which has a piece of the narrative that together weaves the story of the Jewish people in the modern era. Trees are also swamped in the history of the Jewish collective, with forested areas” providing living testimony to worldwide collaborations of the Jewish people through the Jewish National Fund.

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