On Tuesday night Radio Kol BaRama celebrated its third year. While the leadership of Shas celebrated with the radio station inside, Israel Hofshit volunteers stood outside protesting and handing out consciousness raising material against the radio stations policies.
The Kol BaRama radio station limits the sound of female voices, even speaking voices, to one hour a week. Outside of that one hour show there are no female broadcasters, no women interviewed, no women calling in. They insist that their listeners don’t want to hear women, and that they will be economically damaged if there is more than one hour of programming.
Opponents argue that the refusal to employ or broadcast women is against Israeli law and the policy of the Israeli broadcasting association that hands out private radio station contracts. A formal complaint was lodged with the Second Authority for Television and Radio over a year ago. Knesset members have held hearings on the matter. NGOs have filed legal a complaint in the Israel Supreme Court. Former Sephardi chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef has issued a formal decision that women’s speaking voices on the radio are permitted. However, government bodies either won’t or can’t pressure them into adding more radio stations. Despite the station’s continued resistance, Shas leaders showed up to celebrate with the radio station. Shas is one of the political parties in the ruling coalition.
The owners of the Kol BaRama station are members of Shas. One owner recently bragged about his close relationship with the government. This is Shas member Moshe Abutbol, mayor of Beit Shemesh. He also has a history of treating other issues that affect women lightly. Last fall when elementary school girls going to the Orot Banot school were spit on and attacked by adult Haredi men, Abutbol said he couldn’t ensure the children’s safety. When the story made international news he appeared to back off. Recently, he came to the Orot Banot school to make amends and supposedly show his support. However, whilst there he was caught by one of the mothers, Hadassa Margolese, making a joke of the entire affair, claiming that the spitting incident had only tightened his relationship with Jerusalem. Hadassa Margolese is the mother of Naama Margolese whose story of being spit and cursed at made international news.
Shas has a long history of political cronyism and maneuvers to keep the government from executing laws against people associated with their party. The line between the Knesset and the executive branch is very thin. Members of Knesset in the ruling coalition also run the ministries of the executive branch, allowing them to stall and prevent implementation against any law that does not suit their agenda. Complaints against this practice can be lodged in the Israel Supreme Court, but this usually takes time. Further these same parties advocate to limit the power of the Supreme Court so that it can’t overrule their ministerial decisions.
As part of its coalition agreement, it was given control over three key ministries: the ministry of Internal Affairs. the ministry o f Housing and Construction and the ministry of Religious Affairs. It was also given a key role in the finance ministry. Shas MK Eliyahu Yishai is minister of Internal Affairs. Shas MK Ariel Atias is the minister of Housing and Construction (MK) and Shas MK Yaakov Margi is the minister of Religious Affairs. Deputy Finance Minister Yitzak Cohen is also a member of Shas. It should be noted that Shas holds only 11 out of 120 seats in the Knesset, but controls virtually every ministry that affects the day to day economic and religious life of Israeli citizens. Electorial votes often bear no relationship to power once parties start negotiating to form coalitions.
In 2008 Shas pressured the coalition to pass a law that ensured full funding to Shas run schools even if they didn’t teach the legally mandated core curriculum. This year they used their leadership of the Housing authority to advocate for housing assistance criteria that clearly favored their members over wider Israeli society. The proposal favored an absolute number of children over economic need . Women’s rights also were slighted in Housing minister Atias’s proposal. The criteria would have made it virtually impossible for single mothers to gain housing.
They have also demanded that the country continue to exempt their children from any form of national service. This exemption comes by way of the Tal Law, which they demanded be renewed and now rewritten without substantitive change.
The Tal Law exempts 18 year olds that study full time in yeshiva from doing national service. In general, Israelis who have finished high school are required to spend up to three years serving their country either in the military or in a volunteer capacity. Further, if a yeshiva student is married by 23 when the law requires even yeshiva students to serve he is usually given a life long exemption since the IDF prefers not to draft married men. This exemption primarily benefits the children of Shas and UTJ members.
This February the Israeli Supreme Court said that the Tal law was illegal because it unfairly distributed the burden of national service and the risk of dying for the defense of the country. The decision has widespread support in Israeli society. Despite this, Shas has insisted that it will demand another law to exempt its children from national service.
Related stories in Jacob’s Bones: