Politicians at protest against women's exclusion
Photo: Motti Kimchi

We need 100,000 women

Op-ed: Segregated haredi buses could be overcome if 100,000 women board them

My mother, may she rest in peace, was Miss Zehava – a teacher from the rough Jessy Cohen neighborhood. The young woman who immigrated to Israel with not a penny in her pocket struggled with the onerous task of commanding the Hebrew language and became a math teacher in the toughest neighborhood in the city of Holon. Whenever one of her pupils would show up in class with bruises, she would march down to the pupil's house and stand up to the bully father, all four feet and nine inches of her, and threaten to get the "entire police force" to come to his house. Until today, people emotionally recount how Miss Zehava refused to give up on them, even when it was against all odds.


Miss Zehava would also kick the seat of the pants of anyone with the temerity to send her to the back of the bus. In fact, that would be the natural reaction of her contemporaries, the women who created the Israeli miracle, be it teachers, nurses or doctors. They would never have whitewashed the humiliating truth and replaced it with the euphemism "women's exclusion" currently in the headlines of Israel's inner politics, and surely they would not steer clear of confrontation with pathetic thugs, even if it were a physical confrontation.


Tanya Rosenblit, the young woman who dared to challenge ultra-Orthodox passengers on the Ashdod-Jerusalem bus, made the headlines. She was even invited by the minister of transportation to pose by his side for a photo op; quite the honor. I myself am willing to join in on the accolades but the truth of the matter is that the whole affair is rather gloomy: the songs of her praise are a bitter testament to the extraordinary courage needed for the ordinary action of taking a seat on a bus.


Of course not all ultra-Orthodox are the same. Not all are backward. It's easy to vent anger over fundamentalists who humiliate women. It's easy to feel outraged time and time again by rabbis who issue perverse Halachic rulings that are nothing more than an insult to Judaism. In all honesty though, the blame lies with us – we allow these small bands of hell-bent scoundrels, acting under the guise of religion, to terrorize women. For years we were indifferent because it was their wives and daughters who bore the brunt; in recent years, however, they have become increasingly cocksure and have extended their reign of terror to women from other walks of society as well.


Men should also join fight 

One of the celebrated pillars of democracy is the protection of minority rights by the majority. But is seems that over the years, Israel's democracy has lost its bearings and became all too lenient towards a particularly hidebound group of haredi men who abuse women and girls under the auspices of a lofty principle that allows minorities to live according to their beliefs. Now, the Israeli majority – non-religious, conservative and orthodox alike – must struggle over their fundamental rights and stop a pernicious and rapidly spreading takeover by a fanatical extreme from the ultra-Orthodox minority.


Occasionally, women have tried to muster numbers to quell attempts to ban their singing in public and to efface their presence from the public domain, but thus far, we have not yet witnessed a sweeping, forceful movement that strikes this form of terrorism in full force. Indifference is even more dangerous than fear – it sends out a signal to these spiteful men that they may carry on, undisturbed.


The so called "women's exclusion" affair has bred the hackneyed comments we have all come to expect from our public officials, from the piggybacking prime minister to the tut-tutting virtuous president. Any woman who believes for one moment that these banal condemnations will effect change – raise your hands. But you should know one thing – Israeli democracy usually proves to be a lesson in arithmetic; if 100,000 women march on the bastions of the haredi community, Meah Shearim and Beit Shemesh, these medieval ultra-Orthodox just might become ultra-scared and retreat to their own homes; If 100,000 women board all of the segregated buses, maybe these unenlightened haredim will come to realize that they cannot mess with women on other bus lines.


This modest wish to see 100,000 women spearhead an uprising against these zealots does not excuse Israeli men from sharing the responsibility. Would you not like you daughter or spouse to have the choice of sitting wherever she likes and singing whenever she wishes? Do you not dread the day in the not so far future when women are forced to cover their bodies and faces? Would you like them to continue driving car? Voting? If so, it behooves you to join this struggle. One can be a woman of honor in the 100,000 women movement.


The original article was published in Hebrew




פרסום ראשון: 12.26.11, 19:26
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