With the approach of Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement this week that he’s “managed to forge a coalition,” disgruntled Israeli politicians and pundits are increasing the volume of their vitriol. The hysteria over his supposedly excessive capitulation in negotiations with his Orthodox partners is particularly worthy of note.
The shrill accusations from the virtue-signaling crowd about how Israel is on the verge of becoming a Tehran-like theocracy would be funny if they weren’t so false. And the effect that the panic-sowing on the part of home-grown progressives has been having on liberals abroad is not the least bit amusing.
Nor is the bald-faced hypocrisy oozing from every pore of the outgoing government and its local-authority supporters a laughing matter. The brouhaha surrounding the issue of male-female segregation is a perfect illustration.
The Religious Zionism and United Torah Judaism parties are demanding that legislation be enacted to enable the separation of men and women at publicly sponsored events without its being deemed discriminatory. The purpose of the move is to prevent a repeat of a ridiculous 2019 court-ordered cancellation of a sold-out concert by renowned Chassidic singer Motty Steinmetz at the Afula Municipal Park.
The ruling was spurred by a “Women’s Lobby” petition challenging the separate seating that had been arranged ahead of the much-anticipated musical happening. That this was at the behest of a mainly haredi audience made no difference to its detractors. Ditto for the many other similar anti-Orthodox appeals over the years.
Contrary to the claims of disingenuous fear-mongers, the religious parties do not intend to impose gender segregation on the general public. They simply aim to allow for it among those whose interpretation and observance of certain Talmudic decrees requires it.
This hasn’t kept caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his ilk from turning up their hyperbole, however. On the contrary, decrying the freedom-of-religion effort—an effort that he would never in a million years oppose if it concerned Muslims or Christians—he had the gall to tweet that while the “brave women of Iran are fighting for their rights,” their Israeli counterparts are about to be shoved in the opposite direction.
Soon-to-be-replaced Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli has been just as loose with the facts.
“There’s no such thing as separate but equal,” she declared on social media. “We warned that a coalition without women would harm women, and it’s already demanding that not only its members, but the law, as well, will be able to put women behind. Women are no less equal. Nobody has the right to decide for anyone else where to sit, what to wear or whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. This is the fight for our democracy.”
Notice how she slipped in abortion, which has zero to do with the controversy in question. But then, the leader of the Labor Party—an anti-marriage feminist whose baby with her non-husband, producer and satirist Lior Schleien, was conceived through a surrogate in the United States—has always lived by the “do as I say, not as I do” credo.
This is why she, like her fellow leftists, is mum about gender segregation in the secular sector. The latest case in point is a “women only” cruise along the Yarkon River, which took place on Friday under the auspices of and advertised by the Tel Aviv Municipality.
Aware that the White City nixed a famous female Orthodox duo from renting a hall for a concert for women—even though the performers didn’t ask for marketing—the country’s conservative Channel 14 decided to investigate. A quick phone call revealed the glaring double standard in relation to all things haredi, including those involving the weaker sex whose welfare is of such ostensible concern to the chattering classes.
“Is it possible for my uncle to join the [cruise] briefly, just in the beginning?” asked the reporter.
“No, no, no, no, no,” answered an event organizer emphatically. “It’s for women only. Sorry. No men can come. It’s not, not—there’s no way. No, no, no, no. It’s a sisterhood. There’s no place for men. Sorry.”
Stories like this, which are routinely obfuscated by agenda-driven opponents of the incoming right-wing government, should serve as a guide for the perplexed for anyone still puzzled by the outcome of the Nov. 1 Knesset elections.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”