‘Anti-feminist’ vandals in Israel degrade images of women

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JERUSALEM (AP) – The cheerful glow in Peggy Parnass’s eyes is so sharp it can be seen from the walls of the bustling Old City of Jerusalem. Posted across the street at the entrance to City Hall, twin images of the Holocaust survivor and activist contemplate the ancient maze of sacred monuments of Christianity, Judaism and the ‘Islam.

But just outside of this spirituality center, someone saw their image as a problem. Five times since Parnass’s photos were released as part of an exhibition that began in April, vandals – widely regarded as ultra-Orthodox extremists – have spray painted his eyes and mouth.

The graffiti was cleaned each time, leaving Parnass smiling again. For many Israelis, however, the short-term solution has highlighted a familiar pattern that is all the more painful as the destruction does not come from enemies across Israel’s borders but from within.

“It’s not anti-Semitic,” said Jim Hollander, curator of the Lonka Project’s art installation in Safra Square. “It’s anti-feminist.”

Despite all its modernity, military firepower, and high-tech know-how, Israel has for decades been unable to prevent images of women from being disfigured in certain public spaces. Billboards showing women – including footballers, musicians and young girls – have been repeatedly defaced and demolished by religious extremists in Jerusalem and other cities with large ultra-Orthodox populations over the years. Last 20 years.

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel was erased from a 2015 photo of world leaders in Paris published by an ultra-Orthodox newspaper.

The pattern is particularly uncomfortable now.

“It’s not Kabul, it’s Jerusalem,” said Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, a deputy mayor of Jerusalem. “This is a concerted radical campaign to erase women from the public space, which belongs to all of us.”

The double photo of Parnass, 94, who lives in Germany, is displayed on an exterior wall of the Jerusalem city hall complex.

Hollander said he had specifically chosen it from dozens of others posted around the complex to hang at the trademark location, as it projects vitality, persistence and survival through one of the expanses. the most famous in Israel. Its central location makes it visible to thousands of people every day.

The vandalism is largely blamed on a small number of marginal members of the island’s ultra-Orthodox community, which emphasizes modesty among women and has traditionally exercised disproportionate influence in Israeli politics. The photo is displayed next to a street that borders an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood and is a popular gateway to the Western Wall of the Old City, the holiest Jewish prayer site.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up about 12.6% of Israel’s 9.3 million population. The population of this community is growing faster than that of other Jewish and Arab Israelis, according to the Israel Democracy Institute, a non-partisan Jerusalem think tank. A majority of Jerusalem’s Jewish community is ultra-Orthodox, according to the institute.

There is a difference, an expert warned, between the more pragmatic mainstream ultra-Orthodox Judaism and the vandals degrading photos of women.

“In the mainstream, they know the outside world works in a different way,” said Gilad Malach, who heads the ultra-Orthodox program at the Israel Institute of Democracy. “And they know that in certain situations they have to cooperate with it.”

In the traditional Orthodox community, some women have started to push back on social media.

“The men are not responsible there,” said Kerry Bar-Cohn, 48, an orthodox chiropractor and performer who a few years ago began posting YouTube videos of herself singing. children’s songs. Recently, she tried to place an ad in a local flyer with her photo on it, which was refused.

“This is outright discrimination,” said Bar-Cohn, wife of a rabbi and mother of four. “I thought I wanted to chase them, but No. 1, who has the time?” And # 2, you don’t want to be that person.

Advocates say erasing women carries serious societal risks.

“You don’t see women, you don’t hear their needs, and their needs aren’t met,” said Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, 46.

Keats Jaskoll recently launched the subscription-only Jewish Photo Bank, a collection of what she calls “positive” images of Orthodox women for the Chochmat Nashim organization. The idea is to sell images of women acceptable to an Orthodox audience and better understood by people in general.

None of these initiatives have stopped the constant wave of vandalism.

The Israel Center for Religious Action, which is linked to the liberal Judaism reform movement, has tracked vandalism and other attacks on images of women for five years and filed a lawsuit to compel the city to Jerusalem to crack down.

Over time, the municipality responded by stating that it had engaged in a “massive, effective and targeted enforcement” of municipal by-laws against vandalism, but recognized that it was difficult to collect testimony and pursue suspects.

“The Jerusalem Municipality has condemned and will continue to condemn any damage to public images and address the issue if it appears there,” the city said in a statement.

Police say they have investigated all complaints of vandalism and property damage and tried to find those responsible, but had no information on the Parnass case.

By refusing or being unable to suppress, “the state is sponsoring this practice,” said Ori Narov, an IRAC lawyer. “We continue to feel like they keep making excuses,” ranging from a labor shortage to even more limitations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The municipality said the photos of Parnass had been restored and that it had increased patrols around the town hall.

Parnass’ niece, Keren-Or Peled, who lives in Israel, says Parnass has been made aware of what happened. After her photos were cleaned for a third time, Peled traveled to Jerusalem to take a photo to send to her aunt.

By the time Peled arrived, however, the set of photos had again been disfigured. She helped clean it up herself.

“They paint your image over and over again because you are a woman,” Peled wrote to his aunt in an article published in Haaretz. “A beautiful, strong and confident 94 year old woman.”

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Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion contributed.


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