Dec 21, 2011

Women's rights under threat in Israel

women's rights in Israel

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently criticized the growing exclusion of women from public life in Israel. Her timing couldn't be better given news reports of segregated public transportation, the defacing of ads that show female models and even concerns raised in some Orthodox quarters about female public singing.

Secretary Clinton said the segregation of women on Israeli buses reminds her of civil rights hero, Rosa Parks, a black woman who refused to give up her seat to white passengers in the 1950's.

In previous posts on this blog I've covered stories from Israel that deal with gender discrimination. They include a story about a newspaper that photoshopped a picture of the Israeli cabinet in order to erase women members and replace them with men. The story of a rabbi who tried to prevent women from running in local elections. Also the refusal by the Orthodox to publish photos of female Israeli politician Tzipi Livni in their publications.

Recent reports suggest matters are deteriorating on the Israeli gender front.

Although segregation occurs on Israel's bus service Egged, when it does occur it is in most instances a voluntary arrangement. This isn't good enough for a group of ultra-Orthodox millionaires who are looking at funding 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 Ms Rosenblit complied with his command. A policeman who got involved asked Ms Rosenblit to accommodate the man's request. When she refused to do so, the Haredi chauvinist got off the bus.

Segregation isn't just happening on the buses. The UK Independent reports that during a recent festival in a Jerusalem neighborhood, Haredim erected a screen to force the separation of men and women on the street. The Independent article also said that during a local election last week Orthodox men attempted to prevent women from voting by screaming at them.

Haaretz reported this week on segregation measures undertaken by a high school in Herzliya:

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 and comments. One sign read "Women are inferior". A student asked the principal if girls would be permitted to sing any more. Among some Orthodox female singing can set off the easily offended. In the military, religious soldiers have refused to attend ceremonies in which females were scheduled to sing. It has also been reported that they have refused commands from female officers.

Billboards bearing the female form aren't safe either from negative attention. Advertising companies have even opted to keep female images off billboard, bus and other venues in Jerusalem out of concern that they will be vandalized.

There have been reports of retailers being targeted by the so-called Mea She'arim 'mafia'. A Haredi group called Sikrikim have attacked businesses for not putting up signs requesting "modesty standards." The tactics have included window smashing, gluing of locks and the throwing of tar, fish oil and human excrement.

Recent reports of discrimination against women in public spaces are by no means a recent development. Nor can it simply be classified as a problem peculiar to those of more orthodox leanings. While its true that the Orthodox have been at the forefront of news reports dealing with discrimination against women, the state itself has been far too accommodating of religious values - 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 very good points when addressing the issue of 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 - 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 19, 2011

Mary pregnancy kit ad draws heat

Churches have a hard time getting bodies into the pews these days. Part of the reason for the decline in church attendance is because we live in a more skeptical age. Biblical tales about parting seas, angelic visitations, God-sent plagues and virgins who magically become pregnant tend to be subject to more critical scrutiny.

An Anglican church in Auckland NZ, St Mathew-in-the-City, has come up with controversial ads in an effort to provoke interest and discussion. Their latest seasonal ad shows a rather sickly looking Mary looking deeply apprehensive as she eyes the results of a home pregnancy kit test.

The Mary ad has provoked predictable outrage on the part of traditionalists. Charges range all the way from blasphemy to bad taste.

A New Zealand man involved with a Catholic Action Group protest march ripped the lower part of the poster. The vandal, one Arthur Skinner, openly admits that he ripped the ad and told a local news outlet - "to see this at this time is an absolute abomination."

Vandalized ad

Really the ad is little more than a novel effort to make Mary appear more human, more real, more vulnerable. Kind of like a pregnant teen faced with a life changing dilemma.

The problem of course is that Mary isn't just anyone. If you buy the bible's explanation she's no less than the mother-of-God. A concept not everyone can easily relate to.

Glynn Cardy, the minister of St Mathew, seems to think that the ad will provoke discussion and lead to new understandings. If he is proposing a more humanist interpretation of the biblical narrative, his contention might hold up. But if the ad leads artfully to the same old conclusion, namely that Mary's pregnancy was the work of none other than "God" then it's hard to see where this will lead.

Religion and its superstitions has contributed to endless strife and division in our world. Coming up with novel ways to present old myths is just a new way to proselytize when what we really need is an informed reality check.

An earlier and equally controversial ad put out by St Mathew church in 2009 shows Joseph and Mary in bed beneath a provocative caption.

More on the Mary ad story at TVNZ

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

Dec 13, 2011

Canada's Kyoto cop out

To a chorus of international condemnation, Canada has announced that it is pulling out of the Kyoto climate treaty. It's clear that this is where Harper was steering the ship so to those of us watching from the lower decks it comes as no big surprise.

A cutting and very amusing Heather Mallick article - "Canada goes tabloid" - notes that Canada's environment weasel, former news anchor Peter Kent, rather than make the announcement in Durban waited until he was on home turf to spill the beans.


Imagine being Canada. Imagine doing the international walk of shame from the Durban conference and later announcing, hungover with chunks in your hair, wearing whatever you picked off a stranger's floor, and a shoe missing, that you don't care, you are walking out of the Kyoto protocol and the rest of the world can go fry itself.

Imagine making this announcement when you're safely home in the nation's capital – a strange little place called Ottawa, the epicentre of grim, a Canadian Luton on a rainy weekend – because you were too chicken to do it in Durban since you knew you would be a laughing stock worldwide.

Imagine being a Canadian waking up to this news.

Imagine being me, being asked by the Guardian to explain why my nice country, famously full of people who spend their days hewing wood and drawing water amid a stream of apologies, has gone all, well, crap. "Is Canada suddenly being run by the Daily Mail?" the editor asked, impeccably courteous as always. Oh you Brits, so charming as you insert the knife.

And the answer is an honest Canadian yes.

The history of climate-change negotiation is bedeviled with half-truths and outright lies. Politicians who refuse to face the facts of climate change spin the stats, minimize the threat and harp on the importance of livelihood and sustainability. Meanwhile the planet is heading by increments toward a crisis that seems increasingly inevitable - especially with the stonewalling and denial on the political front.

Given the current backpedaling, the idea that we can limit the earth's warming to two degrees celsius above the pre-industrial level is highly improbable. Two degrees is the metaphorical ceiling because once we get above that the risks become exponentially greater.

We're already at 0.8 degrees warming. Quite aside from the yearly increase in carbon emissions, carbon already present in the atmosphere will help drive the mercury toward the 2 degree mark. Two degrees by the way is the low end on the calamity scale. Scientists are warning that it could soar as high as 4 degrees over time.

Meanwhile Canada's conservative politicians mortgage our children's future for short term gain and act righteous about it.

In the face of the growing threat political action on the climate-change front isn't negotiable. Canadian government' claims that it is standing by a commitment made at the TK Copenhagen conference to reduce emissions by 17% (below the 2005 level) by 2020, is little more than talk especially given Harper's tar sands agenda.

Canada's decision to do the wrong thing by throwing Kyoto overboard weakens its standing on the world stage when it comes to the climate debate. It's beyond hypocritical to demand limits from others when you are rogue yourself.

On the closing day of COP17 in Durban Canada was awarded the Colossal Fossil Award. This follows on a number of Fossil of the Day awards presented to Canada for its obduracy and foot dragging. Typically when Kent announced a recent Fossil award in Ottawa conservatives in the House of Commons greeted the news with hoots of laughter. That pretty much sums up the attitude of the resident philistines.

Link also to Guardian and Globe and Mail