columnIsrael News

Secular coercion and double standards

For the Israeli left, gender segregation in the public sphere is only kosher for Muslims and the “sisterhood.”

Secular activists shout at worshipers on Yom Kippur over gender segregation at Dizengoff Square, Tel Aviv. Sept. 24, 2023. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90.

 *** Local Caption *** יום כיפור
כיפורים
כיכר דיזנגוף
הפרדה
ראש יהודי
תל אביב
Secular activists shout at worshipers on Yom Kippur over gender segregation at Dizengoff Square, Tel Aviv. Sept. 24, 2023. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90. *** Local Caption *** יום כיפור כיפורים כיכר דיזנגוף הפרדה ראש יהודי תל אביב
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

Thousands of worshipers gathered at Charles Clore Park on Sunday morning to celebrate Eid al-Adha, the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice. The practice at this location, where Tel Aviv meets Jaffa, is nothing new. The grassy open space along the coast of the Mediterranean, perfect for picnics and other outings, is a choice venue for nightly family break-fast barbecues during Ramadan.

Nor is it out of the ordinary for Muslim-Arab citizens of Israel to engage in gender separation during prayers, which they did at the event in question—with physical barriers dividing between the men at the front and the women at back.

Two things made this annual religious ceremony at the location in question noteworthy. One is that this year, it included signs calling for a ceasefire, with the slogan: “The innocent people of Gaza are in Jaffa’s heart.” But even that wasn’t novel, judging by the behavior of Israel’s Arab citizens, including residents of Jaffa, during “Operation Guardian of the Walls” against Hamas in Gaza in 2021.

Far more significant was the apathy to the happening on the part of all the secular leftists who spent years blocking any attempt by Orthodox Jews to separate men and women in public areas. The adage that “it takes one to know one” is particularly apt here, as the chattering classes constantly accuse the right of opposing “freedom,” while being guilty of just that.

After the Knesset elections on Nov. 1, 2022, while Benjamin Netanyahu was in talks to form what would become the current governing coalition, the Religious Zionist and United Torah Judaism parties were demanding that legislation be enacted to enable gender segregation at publicly sponsored events without its being deemed discriminatory. Their aim was to prevent a repeat of a court-ordered cancellation in 2019 of a sold-out concert by renowned singer Motty Steinmetz at the Afula Municipal Park.

The ruling—one of many that backed anti-Orthodox appeals over the years—was spurred by a “Women’s Lobby” petition challenging the separate seating that had been arranged in advance for the mainly haredi audience.

Somehow, however, the Israeli “sisterhood” never had a problem with gender segregation as a feature of their own activities—you know, for “empowerment” purposes. A case in point was a “women only” cruise along the Yarkon River in late 2022, which not only excluded males from participating, but was sponsored and advertised by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality.

In April 2023, the Tel Aviv Municipality nixed gender separation ahead of an Independence Day prayer event in the city, to be attended by thousands of observant and traditionalist Jews. But the directive came a mere two days after a mass prayer for Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, was held in the streets of—gasp—Tel Aviv, where there were separate sections for men and women.

Fast forward a few months to the period immediately preceding the Oct. 7 massacre. Prior to Yom Kippur, which began on the evening of Sept. 24, a number of religious groups petitioned the Tel Aviv courts to overrule the gender-segregation ban, so that they could erect a partition at Dizengoff Square for prayers. Their appeal was rejected by the High Court of Justice.

To honor the order but circumvent the ban, the organizers of the event put up a bamboo frame with flags hanging on it. Though police approved the divider on the grounds that it was traversable, secular activists—some in T-shirts reading, “Democracy” and others in garb expressing similar anti-judicial-reform sentiment—took it apart and removed the plastic chairs set up for the services. They also hurled epithets at anyone in a prayer shawl, shouting, “Not here” and “Look at the face of evil.”

Yes, on the holiest day in Judaism—and the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, to boot—members of the country’s “enlightened” elite got into a physical confrontation with those who had come to recite the Kol Nidre prayers.

Fighting also erupted the following night, despite the absence of a partition, between worshipers and the Israelis decrying “religious coercion.” Talk about inversion.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai reacted as expected. “I will not let the nature of our city be changed,” he announced. “In Tel Aviv, there is no place for gender segregation in the public sphere. Those who don’t respect the municipality’s instructions and the law won’t be given permits for subsequent activities in the city’s public spaces.”

A few days later, in preparation for Sukkot—the Feast of the Tabernacles—Jewish worshipers at Dizengoff Square again were verbally abused by demonstrators happy for the headlines.

Then came Simchat Torah, the end of Sukkot, when Jews celebrate the conclusion of the yearly Torah-reading cycle. After much haggling, the Tel Aviv authorities consented to the holding of Hakafot Shniyot (the second round of dancing with the Torah) in Dizengoff Square, as long as no gender segregation was involved.

That compromise was reached on Friday, Oct. 6, but wasn’t put to the test. The following morning, on Shabbat, incessant rocket-fire from Gaza sent the entire country into bomb shelters and safe rooms, while Hamas and other terrorists invaded the southern border, murdering, mutilating, burning, raping and abducting Israelis in their homes and at a music festival.

In the eight and a half months since then, the Israeli government—accused by the left of being filled with messianic fanatics—has catered in every way to Muslim sensibilities. In March, for instance, when 134 hostages were still in the brutal clutches of Hamas and other sadistic captors, the powers-that-be in Jerusalem refused to suspend access to the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount during Ramadan. And this was in spite of the name that the Palestinian killers dubbed their multi-pronged Simchat Torah assault on the Jewish state: “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.”

We couldn’t have expected the barbarians who committed the worst atrocities against Jews since the Holocaust to take our sacred days and customs into consideration. But we sure as hell should be able to count on fellow Jews to do so. Unfortunately for the left, that would require shedding hypocrisy in favor of actual open-mindedness.

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