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Women, the Wall and the ‘New York Times’
By LAURA KAM
31/12/2012
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 a message to the growing numbers of non-Jews who are losing their support for the country in general.
 
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 play.

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.

The writer is president of Kam Global Strategies, a Jerusalem-based international public relations company.
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