Battle in Jerusalem to keep poster women visible

By Netta Geist, November 17, 2011
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A poster for the "Uncensored" campaign against Orthodox censorship in Jerusalem is itself vandalised

A poster for the "Uncensored" campaign against Orthodox censorship in Jerusalem is itself vandalised

Nir Barkat, mayor of Jerusalem, ordered the Jerusalem District police commissioner last week to crack down on a growing phenomenon: the vandalism of posters depicting women.

Billboards and adverts featuring women have become a rare sight in Israel's capital because they are habitually defaced and torn down within hours by strictly-Orthodox activists.

As a result of the activists' relentless campaigning, advertisers are now falling into line with their wishes.

The National Road Safety Authority promoted the Jerusalem Light Railway using images of men and boys only. And Adi, the national organ transplant centre, removed images of women from its campaign in Jerusalem this month after receiving threats.

Criticising the reaction of advertisers, Rabbi Uri Regev, president of Hiddush, an organisation that fights for religious freedom and equality, said: "If Adi seeks organ donations from women, it had better not exclude them from its posters."

Perhaps more remarkably, Israeli fashion companies, whose target audience is women, have also been shunning images of females in order to protect their billboards from vandalism.

Fashion firm Honigman cut out the head of the model on its Jerusalem posters; model Gal Gadot's whole upper body disappeared from Castro's latest campaign, though it can be found on adverts outside Jerusalem; and Fox left Bar Refaeli out entirely.

The influence of the strictly-Orthodox on daily life in Jerusalem is also growing in other areas.

Some supermarkets now have separate opening times for men and women. And last month, the High Court ordered the dismantling of barriers in Mea Shearim meant to separate women and men during the High Holy Days.

But some Jerusalemites are fighting back. Uncensored, a new initiative led by the conservative Rabbi Uri Ayalon, calls on residents to hang large photos of women from the upper floors of their houses. "It takes a while to notice that something is missing from Jerusalem's public space, but once you do, you can't believe you didn't realise it sooner," said Rabbi Ayalon.

"I remember going out and suddenly seeing it: a campaign for family medicine depicting a man and two kids, and a poster for a wedding venue with just the groom," says Rachel Azaria, former Jerusalem councillor who was fired by Mr Barkat after bringing the Mea Shearim case before the High Court.

"We must make sure that anyone wishing to publish pictures of women will be able to do so without fear," said Mr Barkat last week.

Last updated: 6:58pm, January 4 2012