Mondoweiss / August 17, 2023
The ‘NY Times‘ has long whitewashed Israel’s far-right. In a welcome surprise, the paper covers the rising segregation by sex there.
Visitors to Israel have long learned that they may be asked to play musical chairs in the transport van that picks them up at the airport. If ultra-Orthodox Israelis climb aboard, other passengers may be requested to move so the ultra-Orthodox men are not sitting alongside women they don’t know.
Today, the ultra-Orthodox are indispensable members of Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right Jewish-supremacist coalition. The ultra-Orthodox are using their increased political power to strengthen Israel’s theocracy, including its anti-women measures. In the past, the New York Times has carefully whitewashed or downplayed the power of the Israeli far-right. This time, in a welcome surprise, the paper published a front-page article headlined:
Growing Segregation by Sex in Israel Raises Fears for Women’s Rights.
The Times report was by Roni Caryn Rabin, who is not one of their usual correspondents. She led with a vignette about a 40-year-old Israeli mother who was physically blocked from entering a train in Tel Aviv by a group of men who told her that train car was for men only, although segregated seating is supposed to be illegal.
Similar incidents followed, and were widely reported. A group of young women got on a bus in southern Israel, heading north toward a beach. The driver objected to their clothing, told them to “cover up,” and ordered them to the back of the bus, where they huddled together under beach towels. Days later, an Israeli journalist, Neria Kraus, went viral online after a United Airlines crew on a U.S.-bound flight tried to order her to change seats after ultra-Orthodox men objected to sitting next to her: “United’s stewardess in charge, an Israeli who speaks Hebrew, approached me and shouted at me that the flight will not take off. And if they do fly, the flight will have to stop in Egypt because of me.”
The Israeli daily Haaretz explained that these incidents are part of a much broader pattern of growing discrimination against women. The paper summarized:
From strengthening rabbinical courts to gender segregation in natural springs, Netanyahu’s government has a concrete plan to enshrine the discrimination of women into law.
The report explains that the Netanyahu’s ongoing efforts to hamstring Israel’s Supreme Court will aid the anti-women agenda. His ruling coalition hopes to
return women to more passive domestic roles subject to the will of men. And if the judicial overhaul becomes law, a weakened judiciary will not be able to stand in the way of these actions …
The New York Times, to its credit, also explained in detail that the anti-women campaign is broader than just a few unpleasant publicized incidents. The article quotes Moran Zer Katzenstein, a representative of an umbrella group of women’s organizations, who said, “They are changing the rules of the game, and it will have a dramatic effect on women. Our rights will be harmed first.”
Obviously, this entire discussion implicitly assumes that “women” are “Jewish women.” So far, there has been little said about the one-fifth of all women in pre-1967 Israel who are Palestinian, and are second-class citizens there just like Palestinian men. And the Palestinian women who are under Israeli occupation in West Bank Palestine, or who are confined in the open-air prison in Gaza, are still invisible.
Another event shows the power of the ultra-Orthodox. A light rail public transport line is opening in Tel Aviv, years late and far over budget. Public transport closes down entirely on the Saturday Sabbath, and the light rail system will be no different. Secular Israelis are already protesting the shutdown, and even threatening to block the tracks on other days.
The dispute would make another excellent story for The New York Times.
James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large