Jewfem Blog

When ultra-Orthodoxy targets women in Israel: NPR podcast

"Radicalization is getting worse, for sure. At the same time, the vision of equal rights, equal participation and women's power — all of that is getting stronger around the world," says gender sociologist Elana Sztokman, author of a book called The War on Women in Israel.   Read the rest here. Or, listen to this NPR podcast about ultra-Orthodox battles against women in Israel.

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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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Women excluded from the New York Times!

Here is the letter I wrote to the New York Times about the absence of female voices from their aritcle on the exclusion of women:  Dear Mr Bronner and Ms Kershner, While it’s nice for you to take interest in the exclusion of women among haredim, your own exclusion of women in the process is nothing less than outrageous. I refer to your article "Israelis Facing a Seismic Rift Over Role of Women", in which exactly one woman was quoted in the article., out of eight interviewees, and she was left to the end. One woman! You interviewed and quoted one man after another, some of whom really have nothing to do with the issue, have done absolutely nothing about the problem, and have no real expertise in gender issues  (Moshe Halbertal? Jonathan Rosenblum? Who are they other than religious men with opinions and status? They have done NOTHING on the issue and know NOTHING about gender!) Meanwhile, the dozens of women's organizations, researchers and activists remain hidden and subsumed -- no less so than women sitting behind a partition in synagogue. The women who have put their blood, sweat and tears into this issue, as well as their scholarship, wisdom and reputations, are silenced. By no less than the NY Times. By you! What the men in black coats do to women on the bus, you have done to professional women leaders and activists. Hanna Kehat, Lili Ben Ami, Tammy Katsabian, Rachel Azaria – these are some of the women on the frontlines who you silenced. It’s the exclusion of women’s professional voices from the New York TImes. It's easy to point fingers, isn't it. It's very convenient to say that "they" have a problem, those "strange" ones who wear odd clothing and abide by their own set of rules. But it's much harder to look inward at one's own culture, where discrimination is more subtle, not because of official "rules' but simply because of an absence of a social or cultural consciousness. Because you don’t care. Because it’s easier for guys to play the power game with each other – “Hey, Halbertal’s in my smartphone, I’ll just get a quote” – rather than to see the women doing the real work and give credit where credit is due. I ask which is a more troubling issue -- women sitting in the back of the bus, or women's voices, expertise and professional leadership being completely ignored in the media. Not such a simple answer, is it. The Times would do well to analyze the representation of women on its own pages, and for reporters to ask themselves who they see and who remains invisible. Sincerely,Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman