I haven’t written in a while about the war on women in Israel, but that’s not for lack of news. Unfortunately, this week alone has seen a whole bunch of new fronts against women. Here is a quick round-up: [Links are in blue]
- Exclusion of female paramedics. Tenth grade girls completing their mandatory volunteer service with the Magen David Adom emergency services in Ramat Gan were forced to go home or remain inside the office because a few religious ambulance drivers refused to allow them to ride with them in their ambulances. This was the culmination of a gradual build-up of exclusion. First they were given fewer shifts than the boys. Then they were asked to stop their activities in the middle of a shift and do office work or go home. Apparently male ambulance drivers were not willing to ride with girls in the vehicle, citing religious observance. It is worth noting that the men are not “ultra-Orthodox” but religious Zionist, illustrating the spread of the war on women to places that used to be considered “moderate”.
- “Unity Day” excludes girls. The commemoration of “Unity Day” to mark the anniversary of the murder of three boys last year included events where girls were forbidden from singing. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Makor Haim high school in Kibbutz Kfar Etzion specifically requested that no girls be allowed to sing at the event, which took place at the Dror high school in the Lev Hasharon region. The school apparently also insisted that the dialogue circles taking place between the students be separated by gender. So much for a vision of unity – unity among males, perhaps. This is not the first time that calls for so-called unity applied to men and boys only. Religious women are often told to subsume their own ideas and concerns for the sake of “unity” or “community coherence”. I wrote about this at length in my first book, “The Men’s Section”, about the many ways that opponents of women’s advancement cite “community coherence” or “unity” as a justification for excluding women. Even former Education Minister Shai Piron, who was a congregational rabbi before becoming a Knesset Member, forbade women from even holding a Torah scroll on Simchat Torah claiming the need for community consensus – that is, consensus among men. Beware of the “unity” smokescreen for women’s exclusion.
- Intersectionality: Racism and sexism in the Rabbinical Court. “Apparently there is something worse than being a woman in the rabbinical court: being an Ethiopian woman,” wrote attorney Batya Kahana Dror this week about an experience she had representing an Ethiopian agunah (“chained woman”) who has been waiting for seven years for a get. The rabbinical judges mocked her repeatedly, mocked Ethiopians generally, implied that Ethiopians are stupid and money-hungry and do not know Hebrew, and more.
- Women excluded from health conference on women’s health. For the past five years, the Puah Institute for fertility and women’s health has been running conferences on women's health without women. Despite tremendous protests, this practice has not only continued but has also spread. Last week, the Meuchedet HMO also ran a women’s health conference without women. When women are not allowed to even discuss our own bodies – not as patients and not as experts on the subject matter – and when women’s most intimate lives and experiences become the a topic deemed appropriate for men only, there is something terribly twisted all through the medical system. I would really like to see women protest by switching from Meuchedet to another health care provider. Maybe then people might start listening. Who’s with me?
- Policing girls’ bodies, even in secular state schools. The trend of schools body-shaming girls has spread to secular schools as well, where there exist double standards of dress-code. That is, boys are allowed to wear shorts of any length that they want, but girls are told to wear shorts to their knees. In Eilat, for example, where temperatures last week reached 42 degrees Celcius (100+ Fahrenheit), girls were expelled for wearing shorts that were the same length as their male classmates.
- And now even the word “woman” is immodest. I suppose it was just a matter of time. We’ve seen the erasure of women MKS from official government photos.We’ve listened to radio stations that refuse to allow women to even call in with questions for the male announcers . We’ve even seen wedding announcements that only mention the groom. And so now, the word “woman” is a problem. So one haredi newspaper ran a story about the Knesset Committee for the Status of Women, and simply left out the word “woman.” Yes, really. No, I don’t know how people were expected to understand the story.
- And in the UK: The ban on women drivers. This isn’t Israel, but it illustrates the cross-pollination of religious radicalism. A certain haredi sect is under public scrutiny for banning women drivers. The UK community is in the midst of heated debates on the issue, and there is even a government review. But I don’t see any of that impacting the Belz Hassidic leadership any time soon.
For more on the War on Women in Israel, check out my book by that title, now in paperback.