Women’s Rights Become A Battleground For Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Jews : NPR

Continuing religious radicalization in Israel:

Four years ago, a lawsuit was filed by an Orthodox feminist group called Kolech, which means “Your Voice” in the Hebrew feminine. It was one of the biggest class-action lawsuits in Israeli history, and it targeted what was then an all-male, ultra-Orthodox radio station called Kol Barama, founded in 2009.

“There were no women interviewing. You wouldn’t be able to hear a woman on this radio channel,” says Kolech’s executive director, Yael Rockman. “Not only that. This radio channel is not private. They get money from the government. ”

The discrimination lawsuit went all the way to Israel’s highest court, and in late 2014, the women won.

With a birth rate double that of the national average, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community is growing — and so is its political power. Feminists are girding for more legal battles over women’s rights.

In recent years, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox have lobbied to omit women’s faces from advertisements on the side of Jerusalem buses that circulate in religious areas. During recent Jewish holidays, signs appeared in a religious neighborhood of Jerusalem, Mea Sharim, instructing women to keep off the main road and use side streets for the sake of modesty.

“Radicalization is getting worse, for sure. At the same time, the vision of equal rights, equal participation and women’s power — all of that is getting stronger around the world,” says gender sociologist Elana Sztokman, author of a book called The War on Women in Israel.

Despite the feminists’ legal victory against Kol Barama, Sztokman believes not enough is being done to protect women. She says that because the ultra-Orthodox tend to vote as a homogeneous bloc, they have achieved disproportionate political power and the Israeli government caters to them in an unprecedented way.

Until now, “Jews have never gone to the government authority and said, ‘Let’s make sure that the public spaces fit the needs of our most radical views on women, because it offends our most extreme strict men,'” Sztokman says. “That has never happened until Israel [in the] 21st century.”

Source: Women’s Rights Become A Battleground For Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Jews : Parallels : NPR

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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