Attempts to segregate women in Israeli society will be high on the agenda at the
quadrennial Enlarged General Meeting of the Women’s International Zionist
Organization (WIZO) in Tel Aviv that starts Sunday.
The conference, which
is expected to draw some 800 delegates from 40 countries, will include a panel
upholding women’s rights in light of events over the past few
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“The recent events surrounding the exclusion of women intensifies
the challenges that confront the existence of the State of Israel as a state of
equality and democracy,” said Helena Glaser, president of World WIZO, who is
ending her term of office after eight years. “WIZO, supported by the Jewish
communities of the world, will not let women in Israeli society be pushed aside,
therefore damaging the character of the state.”
Concerns over women’s
rights in Israel were raised last September when a haredi soldier walked out of
a military ceremony that featured women singing, which he said violated his
religious beliefs. His protest stirred much public debate
and he was later
dismissed from his officers’ training program.
The issue reemerged in
December when haredi males harassed
female passengers who refused to sit in the
back of public buses that operated in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Meanwhile,
in Beit Shemesh, haredi locals spat on an eight-year-old girl on her way to
school because they deemed her dress immodest.
This string of incidents
provoked a backlash in the media and both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and
opposition leader Tzipi Livni spoke out against the segregation of
In addition to women’s rights, attendees will also discuss the
attempts to delegitimize Israel by its political foes.
“On a worldly
level, [the conference] reflects our power to cope with worrying phenomena such
as the delegitimization of Israel in the world,” said Tova Ben Dov, chairwoman
of the World WIZO Executive. “Only strong communities, which keep close contact
with the State of Israel, can cope with the growing criticism against the Jewish
Speakers at the conference will include Livni, President Shimon
Peres; Silvan Shalom, Negev and Galilee regional development minister; Yuli
Edelstein, minister of public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs; and other members
of the Knesset.
Like many other Jewish groups, WIZO has been hit hard by
the global economic downturn. Last week, WIZO Italy House in Jaffa said it might
have to close
because of a lack of funding. The center, which caters to local
children at risk, said its donations have been cut in half in recent years. Many
other charities that rely on WIZO have also had to cut back on spending in
Glaser admitted raising funds has become increasingly
difficult since 2008, the start of the global crisis, but said WIZO was in a
process of revitalizing itself so that it appeals to a younger crowd, raises
more funds and remains in strong standing.
“What makes us special is that
all these years we knew how to adapt,” she said. “As a person I’m someone who
wants change and fast and that process is taking place.”
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