Dec 21, 2011

Women's rights under threat in Israel

women's rights in Israel

The state of Israel claims to be a democracy and an outpost of freedom in the Middle East, a claim that isn't borne out by the facts on the ground. Aside from the crimes committed against the Palestinian people and the ongoing apartheid and oppression which the state employs in its drive for a Jewish "democracy" other forms of racism and discrimination are endemic.

When it comes to gender discrimination in Israel many point the finger at the religious beliefs of the Orthodox. Care needs to be taken in painting the Orthodox with a broad brush. There are many gradations of observance within the Orthodox community, going from the more moderate to ultra-Orthodox hardliners. Importantly it is the government and officialdom that too often fails when it comes to the rights of women, particularly in the public sphere.

Although segregation occurs on Israel's bus service Egged, it isn't officially enforced. This isn't good enough for a group of ultra-Orthodox millionaires who are looking to fund a private bus line that would enforce strict segregation. The service would be provided in Haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem, notably Beit Shemesh and Ashdod.

Last week in Ashdod a woman named Tanya Rosenblit was ordered by a Haredi male passenger to sit at the back of the bus. The man refused to allow the driver to close the doors until Rosenblit complied with his orders. A policeman who got involved asked Rosenblit to accommodate the Haredi man's request. When she refused to do so, the Haredi man got off the bus in protest.

The UK Independent reports that during a recent festival in a Jerusalem neighborhood, Haredim erected a screen to force the segregation of men and women on the street. The Independent article also said that during a local election last week ultra-Orthodox men attempted to prevent women from voting by screaming at them.

Segregation is also an issue in some schools. Haaretz recently reported on measures undertaken by a high school in Herzliya to segregate students by gender.


Students at a local Herzliya high school were startled by the large yellow sign hanging above their heads as they entered school on Tuesday morning. The sign called for the division between sexes in the classroom, forcing girls to sit on the right while boys sat on the left. Even a Mechitza – a Halakhic partition used to divide men and women in places of Jewish worship – was placed at the entrance to the school, in order to emphasize the notion of separation among the hundreds of students who attend the school.

School segregation in Herzliya

Some students and parents protested the move by the school with sarcastic signs. In an ironic comment one sign read "women are inferior." A student asked the principal if girls would be permitted to sing any more... a concern that isn't as far-fetched as it might seem. In the military, religious soldiers have gone so far as to refuse to attend ceremonies in which female soldiers were scheduled to sing.

Billboards bearing the female form aren't safe either. Some advertising companies have opted to keep female images off billboards, buses and other venues in Jerusalem out of concern that they will be vandalized. As the Israeli daily Haaretz notes this has led to the absence of ads featuring women:

It takes time to grasp that something is missing in public spaces in Israel's capital. But once you notice it, it's hard to fathom how you didn't pay attention to this fact earlier. It appears that in recent years, and in an escalated fashion in the past several months, women have disappeared from advertisements in Jerusalem.

While the ultra-Orthodox have been at the forefront of news reports dealing with discrimination against women, the state itself has been far too accommodating - often at the expense of human rights.

Frances Raday
, a member of the UN human rights task force that deals with discrimination against women makes a number of good points when addressing gender-based discrimination in Israel:

Since its establishment, the State of Israel has displayed an exaggerated degree of tolerance toward the phenomenon of religious values' overthrow of human rights values, and this includes trespass of the rights of women...

...there was nothing that stopped religious groups from believing that they are more powerful than the value of equality, and that they can apply patriarchal interpretations of Jewish sources holding that their views take precedence relative to the value of equality.

Ms Raday's analysis is borne out by the discrimination encountered by Rachel Azaria - an Orthodox woman who is a member of the Jerusalem city council. During the 2008 election campaign for Jerusalem city council, Ms Azaria as is customary, opted to post pictures of the electoral list she headed on Jerusalem buses. The bus company informed her that it was "forbidden" to show pictures of women on buses. She was told by the agency involved "No pictures of girls on buses in Jerusalem. Not a 3-year-old and not an 80-year-old."

Ms Azaria said in a Haaretz article that "This new phenomenon, and the system's willingness to capitulate to it, fills me with great fear for the position of women in the State of Israel."

Dec 15, 2011

Rick Perry: gaffes and awkward moments

It's been engaging following the American presidential contenders as they gear up. One thing you can rely on is the spectacle. The departure of Herman Cain hasn't taken anything away from the entertainment value... after all Rick Perry is still hanging in there.

Perry's greatest challenge since he joined the the Republican roadshow has been well... Rick Perry.

He started out in August like a gunslinger who had swaggered into town aiming to set things straight, six-shooters blasting in the general direction of the White House. Then weird stuff started happening - vacant moments, memory lapses, odd segues, bloopers that even his swagger-and-smile routine couldn't fix.

Pundits began questioning if Perry's oops moments were caused by performance anxiety, a lack of basic knowledge, some undiagnosed organic problem or just plain old dumb-and-dumber syndrome. A Texan on a Huffpo comment thread made the observation "Yall are experiencing the Oooops us Texans have been stuck with for ten years."

During the CNBC debate Perry proposed a plan for overhauling government. He started off gamely enough saying there were three agencies he would knock off... "Commerce... Education..." then went blank. Someone in the audience yelled out "EPA" but that wasn't what Rick was trawling for in the canyon of his mind. He was a bit like the slow kid at the back of the class adding with help of his digits as he struggled to deliver...

"And let's see. I can't. The third one, I can't."

With other gaffes Perry has been edging perilously close to McCain "my fellow prisoners" territory.

In Ames, Iowa, he complained about money put into the solar industry, in particular the energy company Solyndra. However it came out as "I want to say it was over $500 million that went to the country Solynda." Land of the Solyndians presumably.

In New Hampshire the bloopers kept coming. He screwed up on the 2012 election date and the voting age. In the US the voting age is 18 but Lone Star pegged it at 21.

A further blank moment occurred during an interview with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register. Perry criticized the appointment of "activist judges" but when he tried to provide a name he came up empty. Never a guy to quit, he blurted out "Montomayor." Where that came from is anyone's guess although curiously enough Monto was the name of an infamous redlight district in Dublin, Ireland. A board member let him off the hook by offering "Sotomayor" - the name of the Supremo in question.

The hole got deeper when he referred to "eight unelected" justices during a discussion of school prayer. In fact there are nine justices on the US Supreme Court.

The list of gaffes will no doubt will be added to in the coming weeks. When asked if missteps might sideline his campaign Perry was quick to respond in the negative - “Oh, shoot, no. This ain’t a day for quitting nothing.”

Funny Rick Perry vid beneath (dubbed):

For more: MNN, Huffington Post