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Wednesday, August 07, 2013 

New feminists of Zion

The New Republic has an article by Alison Kaplan Sommer and Dahlia Lithwick about Haredi violence and discrimination against women in Israel, starting with Beit Shemesh:
[Nilli] Philipp was outraged that, even before the school had opened, the Beit Shemesh government—led by its Haredi mayor, Moshe Abutbul—had backed the ultra-Orthodox, warning parents that the city could not protect their children against any violence that might occur. This proved to be the case: Every day, the harassers showed up outside the school and traumatized the girls, hurling eggs, tomatoes, and bags of feces at them, but the police came only when summoned. Screaming Haredi men were merely redirected to adjacent streets. No arrests were made.

Finally, in December of 2011, one of Philipp’s friends, Hadassa Margolese, allowed her eight-year-old, Naama, to be featured on a nationally broadcast news program. Naama was filmed sobbing and clinging to her mother’s leg, too terrified to go to school. On the same program, a Haredi man proudly defended his right to protect himself from these young schoolgirls and their brazen sexual provocation, declaring, “I am a healthy man!” The segment electrified the nation, and although no prominent Haredi rabbis publicly condemned the protesters, they disappeared overnight.

But Haredi men continued to harass women in Beit Shemesh. Less than a year later, in June 2012, Vered Daniel, an acquaintance of Philipp’s, went shopping in a Haredi neighborhood. In a special effort to respect ultra-Orthodox sensitivities, she wore a long skirt and blouse. Although modest by modern-Orthodox standards, Daniel’s outfit marked her as someone who was clearly not Haredi. When she left her car with her infant daughter in her arms, Haredi men screamed at her for dressing immodestly and spat on her. Alarmed, Daniel ran back to her car, locking herself and her baby inside as the mob battered the vehicle with sticks and stones, shattering a window.

For Philipp, the attack on Daniel was “beyond the beyond.” “Attacking a mother with a young child in her arms—” recalls Philipp, her eyes filling with tears. “She was completely helpless.” The incident drove her to do something she would previously never have contemplated. Like most Orthodox women, there was little about the word “feminism” that spoke to Philipp. She did not consider herself political. But as tensions grew in Beit Shemesh, she had started to follow the debates in online women’s groups, “deep debates,” she says, “about pluralistic society, tolerance.” It was, she says, “my first real exchange with secular and non-Orthodox Israelis.”
If there's anything truly disgusting about these extreme sects of Haredis, one of which calls itself Sikirkim, it's that they would run the gauntlet of following in the footsteps of Islamofascists by threatening and endangering children. And the police should still be ashamed of themselves for failing to initially take action, even after they did take convincing action and arrest perpetrators. This is exactly what's gone wrong in many western countries: cowards taking charge who refuse to do anything.

Some fortunate news is that moderate Haredis have decried community passivity and silence with their own pashkevils (also via The New Republic), though a lot of them were torn down by those sick hoodlums. There's still a lot of work to be done to put an end to these Chillulei Hashem, and it has to be done now.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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