Israel goes Gaga over ladies' exclusion from society

November 24, 2016 23:04

These days, Israel is going Gaga for an 8 year old girl called Naama Margolis. While the youngster is not a pop icon she has undoubtedly become a different kind of symbol, a social one.

Last week, Israel's Channel 2 News, exposed the harassment Naama had to routinely endure on her way to School in the city of Bet Shemsh. This included being screamed at, cursed at and most recently spit on by Haraidi men.

It appears that in recent years Bet Shemesh has experienced a religious radicalization with various Haraidi groups enforcing their own brand of religious marshal law. While this was at one time limited to different sidewalks for men and woman it has now evolved into spitting at women who are not dressed modestly enough, modesty being in the eye of the beholder.

Unlike the pop superstar Lady Gaga, Naama's outfit could hardly be viewed as seductive seeing as how she herself is from a religious family. But this is not enough for the boys boys boys in Bet Shemesh who feel that anything less than being covered from head to toe is an abomination. This, after all, is the birthplace of the new chic outfit known as "mother Taliban".

The Margolis affair, which sounds like the title of a Hasidic John Le Carré novel, attracted much attention not merely because of the girl's age but, rather, because women's exclusion from society is the new "talk about town".

In the past few days the Israeli media has reported on dozens of cases in which women have been asked by Haraidi passengers to move to the back of the bus, the back of the train or even cross over to the opposite sidewalk. In a Gaga like exaggeration, Tanya Rosenblitt, a young woman who refused to move to the back of the bus, has been nicknamed the Israeli Rosa Parks. The issue of women's exclusion reached fever pitch last week when some 4000 people gathered in Bet Shemesh to protest against such occurrences. Amongst them were female Ministers as well as other high ranking politicians.

However, the passionate public response to Tanya and Naama's experiences transcends the one issue of women's role in Israeli society. Naama Margolis may force Israel to have "the talk". Not the one parents have with their children regarding sex in American sitcoms, but rather the one regarding the character of the Jewish state.

Many in the Ultra Orthodox community do not acknowledge the State of Israel or its right to exists. To them, a secular state is not a Jewish one. The Babylonian exile will end with the reincarnation of the Jewish Halacha state in which the word of god is the law. Due to this, they refuse to enlist into the Israeli army or partake in its society. Ultra Orthodox communities are like Islands all to themselves and as such, they do not feel bound by the laws of the land including those pertaining to equality amongst genders.

To the secular and moderately religious majority the thought of a Halacha state is a frightening one that immediately evokes images of the Ayatollah's Iran. Most wish to continue living in a democratic state even if not a liberal one.

The events of the past weeks indicate that the two sides are at odds regarding their vision for the state of Israel, and more importantly, the definition of such a state. Thus, the Margolis affair may prove to be more than just a trigger for such a discussion, it could prove to be an Israeli Plessy v. Ferguson.

But this remains unlikely.

Some Ultra Orthodox communities have entered the Israeli political establishment. Traditionally, such parties have served as political tie breakers enabling either the right or left wing to reach the amount of mandates necessary in order to form the government. Such is the case in the present government in which PM Netanyahu is in a chemical romance with Yahadut HaTorah, a Hasidic political party. Its result, a stable government, will prevent the PM from dealing with the explosive matter of defining the character of the Jewish state.

Besides, the next Grad Rocket is just a few minutes away. As is the case with most matter of social importance, the issue of women's exclusion from society will soon be replaced in the headlines with security concerns such as Iran, the Hamas or even the health of the Saudi crown prince.

Why deal with social tensions when we can all bask in the sun under an Iron Dome of procrastination?

Israel is on the edge of glory. It could choose to enter into a long overdue debate, one that pertains to its core values, beliefs and character. This is a discussion that has as much to do with Israel's past as it does with the nation's future. Unfortunately, we do not seem to have Lady Gaga's courage to stir up emotions and face the music.

Ilan Manor

Tel Aviv

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November 24, 2016 23:04

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