How the Yerushalmim movement brought about the return of women’s faces to bus ads.
They're back! Photo: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM
What connection could there be between the release of Gilad Schalit and the
exclusion of women from public advertisements? Well, there is no real
connection, just an ironic coincidence – one of those that sometimes defy
Schalit was set free on October 18 of last year after more
than five years of captivity by Hamas, but that information was already released
five days before. For security reasons, the Israeli media were required to
remain silent about that sensitive issue for the three days preceding the
soldier’s liberation, and the gap in the news in the Israeli papers had to be
filled in some way.
At one Hebrew-language newspaper, that lacuna
couldn’t have come at a better time, as its Jerusalem correspondent had a “good
story” ready that he was eager to publish. “Why have the women of Jerusalem
disappeared from public advertising?” asked the writer in the article he
published in the Friday issue of the paper, revealing what most of the city’s
residents had become so accustomed to that they didn’t even notice – that women
no longer appeared on billboards or advertising posters anywhere in the
Despite the generally euphoric atmosphere in the country
following Schalit’s release, the article got a lot of attention, and since then,
the public debate about excluding women from advertisements had not abated.
Until last week, that is. In answer to a request by the High Court of Justice,
Transportation Minister Israel Katz announced that Cna’an, the advertising
agency that places ads on city buses, had no right to prevent women from
appearing in its ads.
Rabbi Uri Ayalon, director of the Yerushalmim party
(also represented by Rachel Azaria on the city council), is the driving force
behind the return of women to commercial publicity. In an interview with In
Jerusalem, Ayalon recalls the long road it took to attain that
“We’d already had a bad experience with Cna’an,” says
“In 2008, during the city council election campaign, it refused
to display pictures of the female candidates, but that was connected to the
At the time, Azaria took the company to the High
Court, which ruled that the pictures of the female candidates should appear on
the bus ads – a ruling that was delivered only one day before the
But this time the situation was much more complicated and
required an investigation into what was being excluded and where (for example,
ad campaigns specially adapted to what was assumed to be the character of the
city) and who was actually orchestrating the exclusion.
“In fact,” says
Ayalon, ”we became aware of the situation even before that, when we learned from
the press, along with the rest of the country, that religious IDF cadets walked
out of an official ceremony in protest because female soldiers were singing on
stage. And that happened on September 12 of last year.”
that event, Ayalon and members of Yerushalmim opened a site on Facebook that
they called “Uncensored – fighting women’s exclusion from public spaces,” which
virtually became an overnight success.
“Those were the days of the end of
the summer protest, and this issue emerged as something that could still be
connected with a general sense of resentment and protest but with a clearly
local flavor,” says Ayalon.
Within a few days, the website had more than
From then on, the issue of the absence of women from
public ads became almost an obsession, and Ayalon and a large number of
volunteers from his party started looking for overt examples. And there were
What they first discovered was that commercial ad campaigns had two
different sets of pictures – one for Jerusalem and one for the rest of the
country – while on public (in fact, municipal) billboards, no women appeared at
all. Public ads in the city go through three major paths: the municipality’s
advertising through Ariel (the subsidiary in charge of production and logistics
for cultural events) and two private advertisers – Zohar for billboards and
posters and Cna’an for advertising on Egged city buses.
The first task
would be to work on the municipality. But before that, Ayalon decided to launch
a local initiative. He invited female residents of Jerusalem to pose for a
poster that would be displayed throughout the city as a response to their
disappearance. A total of 70 posters were produced and hung on residential
windows and balconies.
But then someone discovered a Honigman fashion
poster in which Israeli model Sandy Bar appeared with her head cut off.
quick check of the Honigman advertisements in Tel Aviv revealed what was already
suspected at Yerushalmim – that Bar’s lovely head appeared in full on the
“We called Honigman and inquired about that strange
decision. Its answer was that it had to do so according to the
Municipality of Jerusalem’s request,” recounts Ayalon.
Naturally, he then
asked the municipality about that strange request.
The reaction from
Safra Square was quite assertive. They said there had never been any such
request from the municipality, and they threatened to sue Honigman if the
company didn’t retract that claim.
It soon came to light that the
decision and the request to censor the posters came from Zohar, the advertising
company that displays all the posters in Jerusalem.
“We called Zohar to
ask for an explanation and, well, they didn’t even try to hide their practice
and immediately confirmed it, arguing that they had to do it for fear that
haredim would vandalize the billboards and cause them financial damage,” says
But, nevertheless, the idea of challenging the municipality on
this issue remained. Ayalon decided to ask Ariel to display the posters of the
women residents who posed for the “uncensored” campaign on the municipality’s
“The first reaction of the employee at Ariel – which we
recorded by the way – was a big laugh, followed by her declaration that it
wouldn’t take more than a few hours for all the posters to be vandalized,” says
Nevertheless, all the 140 posters were displayed, featuring local
women of various ages, clothing styles and poses. To everyone’s surprise, only
four were defaced. The other 136 remained untouched.
“So by then, we
realized that nobody ever asked the advertisers not to use pictures of women. It
was more an assumption of the advertisers, who believed that haredi vandals
would immediately destroy any billboard or bus ad that showed such images,” says
NOW WHAT they had to do was confront the private businesses that
yielded to the unofficial request not to show women in any advertising campaign
in Jerusalem. One of Ayalon’s team’s biggest discoveries was the dramatic
differences that were made to the visuals of the ads once they were to be
displayed in the city. It soon became evident that this was a kind of standard,
and there were many examples.
Isracard, the credit card company, took
actress Gila Almagor off the posters it displayed in Jerusalem. Honigman cut off
model Sandy Bar’s head and left only her body holding a handbag. There were
posters of gyms where the model that appeared in the Tel Aviv ad disappeared en
route to Jerusalem. But the case that really made Ayalon angry, he says, was, by
the end of November 2011, the advertisements of Adi, the National Transplant
“All over the country their poster showed men and women, but in
Jerusalem only men appeared,” says Ayalon, who felt it was going too
“In that case we succeeded in persuading the Adi people to change
their policy. Quite honestly, we made them feel a little ashamed of themselves,”
And indeed, the next poster of the organization included women,
just like in Tel Aviv. Ayalon says that it was a turning point, since by then
even Zohar had agreed to bring women back to public spaces by displaying posters
like the rest of the country.
What remained to deal with was Cna’an. It
is a private company, but Ayalon discovered that the responsibility still
remained in the hands of Egged. He says it didn’t take him long to understand
that it was not going to change its policy unless it was forced to do
At that point, he petitioned the High Court of Justice requesting
that the Transportation Ministry rule that Egged and Cna’an allow images of
women on bus ads. The court approved the petition and requested a response from
the ministry within a month. One month turned into more than two months (in
accordance with the ministry’s request).
Then last week, the
transportation minister submitted a demand to nullify the court’s ruling, since
the ministry accepted the court’s request and thus will obligate Egged and
Cna’an to observe the law and include images of women in their
The basis on which the minister made the decision was
simply that nowhere in Egged’s or Can’an’s contract was it written that they had
permission to disregard the local law that forbids discrimination against women.
That left them no choice but to respect the law by displaying women’s images
“I think it is a clear case of a situation in which a vacuum is
automatically filled,” concludes Ayalon, adding that residents simply got used
to seeing posters without women, and that was the first thing that required a
“Our values have to be respected and taken seriously. From this
we learn that we shouldn’t conduct our lives according to how we think others
will react. We should just stick to our values. It’s that simple,” he says.