Washington, DC. In reaction to the increasing trend of gender segregation and exclusion of women from the public sphere in Jerusalem, this week the New Israel Fund launched a campaign asking Americans to send in photos to post in public places in that city. Recently, an NIF grantee called “Yerushalmim” (Jerusalemites) put up 150 posters of women around the city, after it became evident that advertisers there were no longer using women’s images in order to appease the city’s ultra-Orthodox population.
“We can’t let women be erased from the public eye. That’s a dangerous erosion of the status of women. And it’s a slippery slope,” said NIF grants officer Shira Ben-Sasson, who administers NIF’s religious pluralism program. “The goal of our campaign is clear: We’re drawing attention to the problem. We will make sure that women are not erased.”
The opposition by some ultra-Orthodox groups to any public presence for women, or intermingling of the sexes, has attracted heightened attention in Israel. Recently, ultra-Orthodox soldiers walked out on a military celebration rather than listen to women soldiers singing, and a leading rabbi subsequently said that “death was preferable” to exposing religious men to women’s voices. Women soldiers were also segregated from their male counterparts at a Simhat Torah celebration, and a neighborhood in Jerusalem erected partitions on public streets to keep the sexes separate during the Jewish holiday of Succot.
The New Israel Fund family of organizations, active for more than 30 years for religious pluralism and women’s rights in Israel, also fought a two-year battle against publicly-funded bus routes in religious areas that required women to sit in the back. After a High Court ruling and grudging assent by the Ministry of Transportation, sex segregation on these buses is now “voluntary,” although social pressure for women to sit in the back continues.
“This issue is where building a religiously pluralist and tolerant society, and our pioneering role for women’s rights in Israel, intersect,” said NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch. “We’re addressing this issue right now with emergency grants to organizations working in this space, and we intend to keep the pressure on Israeli institutions so that women’s rights do not regress.”
As photos arrive electronically at NIF in the US, they’ll be forwarded to NIF’s main office in Jerusalem, where they will be combined into posters for public display, in a spirit of solidarity with Yerushalmim and the women of Jerusalem – and Israel.
For more, please visit www.nif.org/womenseenheard.
New Israel Fund is the leading organization committed to equality and democracy for all Israelis.