Gender apartheid on the rise in Israel

Women required to sit out of men's sight, at the back of the bus.

The Associated Press reports: Posters depicting women have become rare in the streets of Israel’s capital. In some areas women have been shunted onto separate sidewalks, and buses and health clinics have been gender-segregated. The military has considered reassigning some female combat soldiers because religious men don’t want to serve with them.

This is the new reality in parts of 21st-century Israel, where ultra-Orthodox rabbis are trying to contain the encroachment of secular values on their cloistered society through a fierce backlash against the mixing of the sexes in public.

On the surface, Israel’s gender equality bona fides seem strong, with the late Golda Meir as a former prime minister, Tzipi Livni as the current opposition leader, and its women soldiers famed around the world.

Reality is not so shiny. The World Economic Forum recently released an unfavorable image of women’s earning power in Israel, and in 2009, the last year for which data are available, Israeli women earned two-thirds what men did.

The newly enforced separation is felt most strongly in Jerusalem, where ultra-Orthodox Jews are growing in numbers and strength. The phenomenon is starting to be seen elsewhere, though in the Tel Aviv region, Israel’s largest metropolis, secular Jews are the vast majority, and life there resembles most Western cities.

Still, secular Jews there and elsewhere in Israel worry that their lifestyles could be targeted, too, because the ultra-Orthodox population, while still relatively small, is growing significantly. Their high birthrate of about seven children per family is forecast to send their proportion of the population, now estimated at 9 percent, to 15 percent by 2025.

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One thought on “Gender apartheid on the rise in Israel

  1. Leslie Garrett

    Thirty years ago I took the entire Ulpan program in Israel, the intensive culture and language course given to arriving immigrants. Only four or five people in the class admitted to believing or practicing any faith. During my weeks in the Ulpan class I eventually heard each of my twenty classmates state his opinion on religion. A majority of the class was from Russia or Eastern Europe, where, we should remember, secular Jews were an important element in the origins of the Communist party and dominant in its early leadership. Such apparatchiks were eager to leave as the USSR came unglued. Most of my classmates knew little or nothing about the Torah or Judaism, and, much to the chagrin of our excellent teacher, they were not interested. They made it clear that they came to Israel only looking for a better life materially and a better climate.

    A majority and more of my fellow students would have readily agreed with the following statement, and several actually said this more than once, without prompting: “I am not religious. I do not believe in God at all. Judaism is my ethnicity.” Over and over they said: “Judaism is my race.” They would smile when they said this, and most of those nearby would shake their heads in agreement.

    This was not just the case with new immigrants. If you talk about religion with an Israeli at random on the street anywhere, aside from the visibly religious ones who are a distinct minority, the odds are high that he will say “I am not religious. I am a secular Jew.” Have you ever heard anyone say that they are a secular Christian or a secular Muslim? It would make no sense. If one comes to Israel, there is only one criterion that decides ones right to stay there: was your mother Jewish? Belief is not a requirement. Jews in Israel define being Jewish as a racial matter openly and frequently. The statement “I am a secular Jew,” is something that a visitor hears said every day in Israel, and what else can this mean? When religious identity is cancelled out, the default position for human identity seems to be race.

    This article was posted by people who basically have the same assumptions as my secular classmates. Gender separation and dress codes have been a primary characteristic of the Western religious tradition from the beginning. It is only by driving out religious Jews, traditional Christians of almost any variant, and all practicing Muslims that you can have the gender neutral Valhalla that is demanded by secular Northern Europeans and their American progeny.

    Through all of human history and long before, patriarchy was THE way of life that was dominant over all the great breadbaskets of of humanity. On this Confucius and Luther agreed, Greek, Roman, and Hebrew laws were in close accord. Feminine dominant societies exist for long only in isolated mountain valleys, wild arctic forests, and distant atolls; at the crossroads of the trade routes, in Kabul and Cairo strict gender and sexuality rules have always prevailed. This feminism that Americans preach as self-evident right, is in fact little but the reemergence of the ancient, briefly kept at bay, traditions of northern barbarians with only a very short experience with civilization and whose predatory world dominance, like the plundering of the Vikings and Mongols, will one day end.

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