How Others See Us

Articles on what we look like to those outside of Israel, both Jews and Non-Jews

Eisner and the Activists: What Really Happened on Saturday at Route 90?

Within a week it had almost 600,000 hits. The video, released on YouTube a week ago, showed IDF soldier Shlomo Eisner striking a young distracted Danish man in the face with the long side of his M16 on Saturday afternoon (April 14, 2012).

After a flurry of articles including two New York Times articles (April 17, April 18), it looked like the story would die down. But on Friday B’Tselem released a new video filmed by Palestinian TV. The video shows Eisner hitting an additional 4 people, one in the back with his gun. Another person struck by Eisner was standing still in front of Eisner. In order to strike her Eisner had to take at least one pace forward and lunge.

Eisner had claimed that he was acting in self defense after having already been attacked. He said the first video had been heavily edited. It presented a distorted picture of what happened. The so-called cyclists were anarchists. For Eisner to have acted in any other way would have put lives at risk. Continue reading

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What Does Tzipi Livni in Newsweek’s Top 150 Tell Us About Women and Power?

On Monday Newsweek/the Daily Beast named Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, head of Kadima, among its list of “150 women who shake the world”. She is the only Israeli in the list. The international list contains 52 women from the USA, 4 from the UK, 2 from France, 3 from the FSU, 5 from Egypt, 2 from Syria and 6 from Iran. No one from Jordan or the Palestinian Authority made the list.

Newsweek looks past the decline of the Kadima party in recent years and focuses in on the number of seats her party currently holds, her advocacy work and integrity. It describes her like this:

The first female opposition leader in Israel’s history, Tzipi Livni quickly rose through government ranks, from her first appointment in 2001 to being sworn in as the first woman vice prime minister five years later. currently the head of Kadima, Israel’s largest political party, Livni is one of the most powerful women in the country. A former lawyer known for her honesty and integrity, she has been a steadfast proponent of the peace process. Livni was the chief negotiator for Israel in talks with Palestinians, supporting a pullout from the gaza Strip and a two-state solution to the conflict. She is also an active advocate for women’s and gay rights.

Tzipi Livni responded to the recognition with gratitude and hopes that more women would have the opportunities to power that she has enjoyed. On her facebook page she wrote:

I am glad that Israel is represented on this distinguished list in this positive context of strong women, particularly at a time when Israel is mentioned in the context of the unacceptable phenomena of the exclusion of women, which has raised its ugly head. I hope more women will have the power to act and fight for the right to determine their future as I plan to continue to fight for the face and the values of Israel. (Translation: Times of Israel)

In an interview on Israeli Army Radio she acknowledged the compliment to herself, but then stressed the national signifiance, saying “it’s good that an Israeli woman features on the list.”

Every major Israeli newspaper has trumpeted this news, some in ways that are very telling about their biases. Whatever one thinks of her leadership of Kadima, it is hard to argue with the claim that she is one of the most powerful women in Israel. Yet all of the major papers except HaAretz and Ynet had difficulty with acknowledging Livni as a woman of power, even though they quoted liberally from the Newsweek biographical summary. Continue reading

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That US Travel Advisory Has Been Around for a Long Time

… and sadly so has violence in Haredi neighborhoods.

This week several blogs reported that the US Government was warning Americans to dress modestly when they visit ultra-orthodox neighborhoods, lest they be assaulted. In light of all of the turmoil in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh this winter, many people thought this was a new warning.

It isn’t.

“The Wayback Machine” is an archive that stores the history of the internet. It lets you turn back the clock and see any webpage the way it looked a year or two ago or even ten. Using the way back machine I was able to find a snapshot of the US State Department travel information page for Israel from June 7, 2005*.

Here’s how the page looked when it was archived on Jaunary 1, 2006 :

Jerusalem, travelers should … dress appropriately when visiting the Old City and ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods.  Most roads into ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods are blocked off on Friday nights and Saturdays.  Assaults on secular visitors, either for being in cars or for being “immodestly dressed,” have occurred in these neighborhoods.

And here is how that paragraph looks today:

In Jerusalem, travelers should … dress appropriately when visiting the Old City and ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. Most roads into ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods are blocked off on Friday nights, Saturdays, and Jewish holidays. Assaults on secular visitors, either for being in cars or for being “immodestly dressed,” have occurred in these neighborhoods.

They are exactly the same. Just for fun we also looked at some snapshots for the years between 2006 and now. The advisory for modest dress was still there. As the warnings all the way back to 2006 clearly show, haredi hassling of women has been going on a long time. In fact, it has been going on much longer than even the WayBack machine shows.

Thirty years ago, when the internet was a plaything of academics and defense personnel, a cousin of mine walked through Mea Shearim in a short sleeve shirt. Men threw stones at her. When she told me the story a decade after it happened, there was still pain and anger in her words.

On Shavuot 1997, in the days before the Kotel had been declared a Beit Knesset, I was with a group of men and women in the plaza behind the kotel, praying off to the side near the entrance gates from the parking lot. We were half way through the Torah reading when suddenly a mob of black coated men surrounded up, screaming, yelling, throwing stones and bags of milk. The police had to escort us out.

In 2004, novelist Naomi Ragan was harassed on a Mehadrin bus because she was in the wrong seat.

Monday morning, in the throes of a new exercise regimen, I found myself walking down Strauss Street and, as luck would have it, the number 40 bus stopped right in front of me. It’s the bus with the shortest route to my home in Ramot, a neighborhood divided between secular, modern Orthodox, and haredi inhabitants. The bus was empty when I got on. Completely empty. So I paid my fare, got my receipt, and chose a single seat near the front.

I was happily immersed in an article about Yaddo in Vanity Fair when I was interrupted by an angry haredi man who announced that I needed to move to the back of the bus. I looked up at him, astonished, feeling a flash of what Blacks must have felt in Alabama in 1950….

Very calmly, and politely I think, I told him that this was a public bus and I would sit where I liked. He didn’t have to sit next to me, and he didn’t have to look at me. He shuffled off quietly, taking one of the many, many available seats. And that, I thought, was that.

It wasn’t. A few stops later, another haredi man – this time with the build of a Sumo wrestler – aggressively planted his two feet squarely in front of my seat and, in a loud and abusive tone and in no uncertain terms, demanded that I move to the back of the bus…. I am absolutely confident that only the prohibitions against touching a woman (that actually are in the Shulchan Aruch) saved me from being bodily hauled from my seat….

The entire ride, I continued to be the target of intermittent abuse until he finally got off…. ALL THIS TIME, the bus driver said nothing, even though it was clear to him what was happening.

Violence in Haredi neighborhoods not the real news this winter. The real news is that we are now talking about it. Street harassment and bullying can’t end unless people talk about it. However, if we can talk about it, then we can also work together to find a solution.

The question is, will we?  This problem has been going on a long time.  It will not go away, unless we start doing something more or different from what we did before all the media fury erupted.   We should never confuse media attention with real change.

Nor should we be lulled into believing the problem has disappeared just because it isn’t on the 6 o’clock news.  The media attention has died down, but our efforts to make a difference must not.
* Note: At fist glance the archived page appears to be current as of 2012.  This date is due to the archived page including a small amount of embedded javacode that generates today’s date whenever that might be.  The actual date of the warning and the warning itself are hard coded in the html and not generated.   One can see this date by scanning about half way down the page just above the beginning of the text of the warning.  The hard coded date is  June 7, 2015.

Categories: Calls to Action, Extremism, How Others See Us | Tags: | Leave a comment

What’s Pakistan Got to Do With It?

Pakistini cadets marching past masoleum of national founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah

What do Pakistan and Israel have in common? More than one might think.

Pakistani columnist Irfan Husain, writes in an op-ed in one of his country’s major newspapers:

From being mostly liberal, tolerant world citizens, they [Israelis] seem to be on a rapid trajectory towards becoming a harsh, literalist people. This, too, is a familiar path to us in Pakistan. From being a secular, forward-looking country when it was created, it has drifted steadily towards religious extremism and intolerance.

He draws several parallels:

  • Both countries began with high-minded humanistic and secular ideals.
  • Both have a significant group of fundamentalists who challenge the legitimacy of the state.
  • In both contries these fundamentalists have disproportionate representation and in both countries this is attributed to high voting rates among the fundamentalists.
  • In both countries the fundamentalist group is gaining power by force of extravagant birth rates.
  • Whether based in secular culture or religion, ideology has dominated political discourse from the very founding of the state.

You can read the full op ed at Dawn.com: “Spiritual Twins”.

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The Haredim in the Eyes of “The Young Turks”

Commentators from The Young Turks, a US based online news and commentary show, look at Haredi conflicts with wider israeli society. What are the bounds of freedom and religion and decency?

Towards the end, one of the Jewish staff members pitches in saying:

As a fellow Jew it really, really upsets me. It really, really does. What if I was there and those were my sisters who were getting spit on. Its BS and it really, really upsets me. If my sister were to be walking down the street… if I saw this happening I don’t know what the f— I would do. But its just like Jews against Jews. It should never be like that. That’s not what Judaism is about.

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