The Jewish Taliban

It seems both Israel and some American communities are having to deal with increasingly aggressive Ultra-Orthodox Jews who, like their reactionary Muslim counterparts, are deeply misogynistic and want women to be covered up and turned into second class citizens.

Over recent months, women’s faces have disappeared from billboards across the city amid mounting pressure applied by the powerful ultra-orthodox lobby, who find the female image offensive.

Several advertisers have erased female models from their posters in Jerusalem. Elsewhere in Israel, the winter campaign of Israeli clothing brand Honigman features a model cosily dressed in winter knits. In the capital, the woman’s head has been removed from the image, leaving just her arm and a handbag.

Companies that do not fall in line with the standards of the extreme ultra-orthodox have frequently fallen victim to direct action. Across Jerusalem, female figures have been blacked out of billboards with spray-paint, or vandalised with graffiti branding the image “illegal”. Other posters are simply torn down…

It is not just secular Israelis that have been moved to protest. Members of the Haredi ultra-orthodox community themselves are reporting a rise in assaults on women. One orthodox website reported this week that three orthodox girls had been physically attacked in Jerusalem for dressing immodestly.

The secular mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, is fighting against these actions and has instructed the police to take steps to prevent this kind of thing from happening:

On Sunday, Barkat wrote a letter to district police commander Niso Shaham in which he said: “We must make sure that those who want to advertise [with] women’s images in the city can do so without fear of vandalism and defacement of billboards or buses showing women.”

Police have confirmed an increase in vandalism on the borders of Jerusalem’s closed ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods. Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police would be stepping up patrols to prevent further acts of hooliganism and ensure it is investigated.

Rosenfeld added that despite being pelted with stones, police officers made several arrests in the orthodox Meah Shearim neighbourhood last week.

But activists claim the battle over Jerusalem’s billboards is only one manifestation of an alarming trend towards gender segregation across Israel driven by the religious right.

When reactionary Muslims engage in this behavior, they are called terrorists (and rightly so). Will America’s religious right speak out against the same behavior by reactionary Jews, here or in Israel? Not likely.

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