Jewfem Blog

"Gaza: A Man's War" -- my feature article in The Atlantic

During Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s month-long military operation in Gaza, which is now suspended in a fragile ceasefire, Israelis were glued to their screens. And more often than not, those screens showed images of men. The Israeli soldiers were men. The Hamas fighters were men. The pundits pontificating were men. And nearly all the Israeli and Palestinian casualties were men. When women did appear, they were often seen eulogizing, mourning, or struggling to reconcile with their reality. The images capture a sobering fact: Women in the region are suffering terribly from the consequences of decisions from which they are excluded. But critically, these gender dynamics also point to a way out of perpetual conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. From start to finish, the latest Gaza conflict has largely been a man’s war. The Israeli negotiating team in Egypt does not include a single woman–not even Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, whose condition for joining the current governing coalition was that she head Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instead appointed his own (male) representative, Yitzchak Molcho, to represent him in the delegation. Livni sits on Israel’s security cabinet, the small committee that has made most of the major decisions about this war, but, tellingly, she is the only woman at the table. The story is the same on Israeli television and in the country’s newspapers. According to a study by The Marker, fewer than 10 percent of all experts interviewed on news programs during the war have been women. The sexism underlying women’s exclusion from security and military leadership has found expression in some particularly troubling statements by senior officials and commentators. Moshe Feiglin, a member of Israel’s legislature, or Knesset, recently reprimanded lawmaker Aliza Lavie for discussing a bill on sexual violence, saying that wartime is no time to be “talking about things like flowers and sexual assault.” Bar-Ilan University professor Mordechai Kedar argued on Israeli radio that the only way to stop terrorists is to threaten to rape “their sister or their mother.” The implications have not gone unnoticed. “Women are sexually assaulted every day,” Amalia Schreier, a Lavie aide who had a hand in writing the sexual-assault bill, told Feiglin. “The comparison between ‘flowers’ and ‘sexual assault’ and the delegitimization of this issue has the effect of hurting and placing at risk 50 percent of the population.” In the current conflict, all Israeli combat casualties have been men, since the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) does not allow female soldiers to operate in positions “over the border.” On the Palestinian side, virtually all Hamas fighters are men, and more than 80 percent of Palestinian casualties in Gaza have been male (a New York Times analysis on Tuesday found that Palestinian men ages 20 to 29, the population most likely to be militants, was most overrepresented in the death toll). But women suffer gravely too—among other things, they perish in homes, schools, and hospitals that come under Israeli attack and occasionally double as Hamas strongholds, and grapple with the psychological...

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The slippery fish of news; or gender, politics and the exclusion of women

Gender is like the slippery fish of news and politics. It doesn’t stay in the hand for too long, always slithering away as other issues that are considered “bigger” or “more important” take its place. At least that’s the impression I’m getting over the past few months’ of public activity around the exclusion of women in public spaces in Israel. Certainly the issue of gender segregation has arrived. But it is quickly swimming away as the public moves on. Indeed, even some advocates are bent on shifting the discussion elsewhere. Take, for example, the subject of women singing in the army, and controversy over whether religious soldiers should be penalized for walking out of official events where women sing. Although this particular topic is not exactly highest on my agenda – it bothers me much more that *The Knesset* has not had a woman singer in years in deference to religious politicians; I care much less about a few confused young men than I do about governmental policy that excludes talented artists to appease religious men with power – nevertheless, the legislative activity on this issue has been disturbing. MK Tzipi Hotoveli, the Knesset member who heads the Committee on the Status of Women, recently submitted a bill, along with MK Yakov Katz that would give the IDF rabbinate power to decide on what soldiers should be allowed to do, and ensuring that soldiers will not be penalized for “religious” issues. The bill would effectively authorize the exclusion of women in the IDF. Despite intense pleas by women’s groups, Hotovely came down on the wrong side of this issue. Thankfully, the bill failed to pass today in its initial reading. But this apparently had nothing to do with gender: Defense Minister Ehud Barak said blatantly that his objection had nothing to do with gender but is about his concern about the “damage to army hierarchies”. In shifting the discussion away from gender onto other things, Barak has company. The former chief rabbi of the Israeli Air Force, Rabbi Moshe Ravad, who was connected to the Shahar program to recruit haredi Orthodox men to the army, said in his recent resignation over women’s singing that he “always relied on the fact that I could allow haredi men who enlist to maintain an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle and observe their faith.” The army’s decision to allow women to sing, he wrote, fails to “protect the beliefs of God-fearing soldiers”. Ravad, like many others, is trying to turn the exclusion of women into an issue of religious versus secular issues in the army and society. It is almost a veiled ultimatum, as if he is saying that the army has to choose between haredi soldiers and women singers. It’s easy to see where this is going. Women are going to be asked to move aside for the “larger” issue of haredi integration in the army. Thus far, the army has been on the women’s side, but it’s not clear how long the pressure will hold. It...

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