A group of Charedi women has started a rebellion, declaring that they will not support their usual parties in the January 22 election because of their male-only candidate lists.
Israel’s two main Charedi parties, the Ashkenazi-run United Torah Judaism and the Sephardi-run Shas, both have a strict policy of not fielding women, claiming that doing so would flout religious teachings.
Esti Shushan, a 35-year-old mother-of-four from Petach Tikva, has set up a Facebook group called “Not Elected, Not Voting”, appealing to Charedi women to boycott any male-only party.
The parties are “trying to preserve a social order in which a woman has no voice, in which she is paralysed and excluded from the important crossroads in her life, in the nation’s life,” the group charges. It has 1,300 “likes”.
“If my friends and I aren’t good enough to represent the parties then we aren’t going to vote,” said Mrs Shushan, who works in advertising and voted Shas in the last election.
She suggested that the parties’ refusal to field women is particularly raw given that the wife is usually the breadwinner in Charedi families.
Dov Halbertal, a prominent Charedi rabbi, claimed to an Israeli website that a woman serving in Knesset is the “embodiment of immodesty”. However, Ms Shushan said: “We found that there is no prohibition against a woman being a community representative.”
She dismissed the oft-cited religious prohibition against women serving in positions of “royalty” with the point that politics is different to royalty.
Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, director of the Rackman Centre for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar Ilan University, described the campaign as “new and significant”.
She said: “It is in line with changes that are taking place in the Charedi community, with women not just working but doing so in professions they haven’t traditionally been in, in which they are socialised and exposed to Israeli culture.”
The boycott comes as the Central Election Committee is deliberating on a petition by several activist groups claiming that the Charedi parties break equality laws by excluding women.
For the first time this year there is a Charedi-led party with female candidates: Am Shalem, led by the Charedi Rabbi Haim Amsalem.