Female Ministers removed from 2015 cabinet photo by ultra-Orthodox media
A threatening hint: deleting women from the public sphere
We are once again reminded of the deleterious impact of religious fundamentalism on gender equality. The seriousness of this phenomenon is compounded by the fact that these aberrations often represent major segments of Israel’s body politic, which have now returned to the front of the political stage.
Every election cycle, after the Prime Minister assembles his governing coalition, the new cabinet members pose for a traditional, formal group photograph with the President.
Israeli Cabinet with President Rivlin, 2015
Looking at the ways this photograph has been featured in the media this year, we are once again reminded of the deleterious impact of religious fundamentalism on gender equality. We come back to this phenomenon because its seriousness is compounded by the fact that these aberrations often represent major segments of Israel’s body politic, which have now returned to the front of the political stage. They now oversee major public services such as commerce, employment, industry and health, and one cannot reconcile a deep seated theological position that refuses to acknowledge equality and visibility of women with the expectation that in the course of their public authority they will be fully guided by the core principle of gender equality as required under Israeli law.
Israeli Cabinet, 2015
As portrayed on ultra-Orthodox b'Hadrei Haredim news site
While most news outlets simply publish the photograph without altering it, some ultra-Orthodox websites and newspapers take a different approach, blurring the faces of the female cabinet members, as did the b’Hadrei Haredim website, or cutting them out altogether as did “Yom L’yom”, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party’s publication. Sadly, this has come to be expected. Recently, an ultra-Orthodox news site even doctored German Chancellor Angela Merkel out of a photograph of world leaders at the famous Paris rally in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack.
Israeli Cabinet, 2015
As portrayed on ultra-Orthodox Shas party's official Yom l'Yom newspaper
In the last few days, Hamodia, the newspaper of the Hasidic faction of the United Torah Judaism party in the coalition, reported on the appointment of a female MK to head the Gender Equality Committee of the Knesset, but not only would they not include her photo, they also eliminated her first name, so as to avoid printing a woman’s name in the paper, as is routinely done in the case of male MKs(!)
[This faction is represented by MK Rabbi Litzman, Deputy Minister of Health, who in the past, when he served in this role in a previous government, required that a female medical researcher due to receive an award from the Health Ministry, appoint a man to receive the award on her behalf because he was not willing to present her with the award directly and personally. He is also the one who explained the refusal of most of the men in the ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi community to leave the Yeshivahs and enter into the workforce: “Who said men should work? It should suffice that women do!”.]
Hiddush expressed grave concern about this trend, pointing also to the cynicism involved: "It's not clear what this Haredi leadership is thinking. After all, Haredi politicians are allowed to sit in government with women, work with women, and be photographed with women, but the photos cannot be published! Their reasoning is probably in the spirit of the Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin, which says 'money purifies the Mamzer' ... In this case it seems that “Israel's public coffers purifies female politicians”, at least as an exception granted to the Haredi politicians who milk the treasury.”
One bright light in the midst of this politically endorsed bigotry was Adina Bar Shalom, the daughter of the late Rabbi Ovadya Yosef, spiritual leader of the Shas party. Speaking at a panel discussion on Judaism, Zionism and Israel, Israel Prize winner Bar Shalom warned that the trend of “disappearing” women from the public face of the ultra-Orthodox world could have worrying consequences for the future. “It's a great shame! Can't a man look at the face of a woman and say: 'What a pretty woman, created by God, Blessed Be He'? What's happening to us? I fear that if this continues, we will have to veil our faces,” she said. Bar Shalom, a constructive voice in the ultra-Orthodox community, had considered running for the Knesset herself in the last elections, but unfortunately gave in to pressure from Shas party elders to give up her political campaign.
It's sad to see that Haredi websites employ 21st century technology, but in the matter of discrimination and exclusion of women some have not advanced past the Middle Ages. After all, nobody demanded that they upload these photograph in the first place. They could have simply not included them, as did other news sites. Such demeaning censorship is a threatening hint to all of us, should God forbid the process of theocratization advance from the yeshivas of the ultra-Orthodox political parties and their sectarian media outlets into further shaping public policy.