Public opinion research has shown time and time again that the No. 1 human
rights value which the public in democracies judge other countries by is the
issue of women’s rights.
For better or worse, this right far surpasses
concern about any other human rights issues, including freedom of religion,
freedom of the press, freedom of the judiciary and freedom to vote. How women
are treated in any given society is the gold standard by which individuals in
free countries judge others.
Belief that Israeli women do not have full
and equal rights lends credibility to ever-increasing arguments that work to
deligitimize the state and cast aspersions on Judaism in general. The issue
allows, for so many, a simple and easy way out of supporting Israel when they
likely have little to no understanding or interest in the complexities of the
challenges facing the country today.
That is why, while the recent New
York Times piece on The Women on the Wall may have been a boon for the
determined group, it is simply terrible for Israel’s image.
We also know
from very reliable public opinion research that the vast majority of people all
over the world, including opinion and policy makers, get most of their foreign
news information from TV (and while Internet usage is indeed rising, the vast
majority of those who get their news online go to the sites of their traditional
local or national newspapers or access the web pages of their favored TV news
channel). That is why a front page story on this issue in the New York Times, Le
Monde, or Der Spiegel, which TV news editors at BBC, CNN and France 24 read for
story ideas to fill their airwaves, is so important.
WHILE PRIME Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu has very publicly rebuked ultra-Orthodox efforts at excluding
women from the public domain, saying just last year, as women’s faces
disappeared from public spaces on bus advertisements and billboards that
“equality between men and women is absolute – that is how it has always been,
and that is how it will continue,” there was likely a keen realization in the
Prime Minister’s Office that the international airing of the Women of the Wall
issue needed a serious strategic communications effort to be set in
The prime minister’s statement this week that the Western Wall has
to be a site that expresses the unity of the Jewish people and will be seriously
dealt with must be seen as not only a message to Reform and liberal Jewish
communities abroad, who are up in arms about this matter, or to many modern
Orthodox women in Israel who are increasingly distressed by efforts to silence
women’s voices in their own community, but to the growing numbers of non-Jews
who are losing their support for the country in general.
A solution to
the Women of the Wall problem, if it comes, must not be the end of dealing with
the status of women in Israel. There are so many other critical issues to
contend with, first and foremost for the quality of life of all Israeli
citizens. However, these issues have the power to derail support from
increasingly liberal Americans and Europeans.
One can be sure that Anat
Hoffman, the leader of the Women of the Wall, will not rest on her laurels
should this particular battle be won. The organization she heads, the Israel
Religious Action Center, has a number of items on its agenda pertaining to women
such as stopping the increasingly stringent imposition of Orthodox doctrine in
Israel’s religious sphere, including issues pertaining to marriage and divorce,
gender segregation and exclusion of women in public. These and other such issues
will surely be publicly aired.
Women’s rights in Israel are not just the
concern of Israeli women. Women’s rights have serious international
ramifications for the nation and Jewish communities everywhere.
writer is president of Kam Global Strategies, a Jerusalem-based international
public relations company.