Violence against Egged buses in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem may increase if an activist group is successful in its campaign to include photos of women in ads plastered on the vehicles.

Jerusalem and Bnei Brak are the only two places in the country where women are not featured on bus advertising, according to Cnaan, the marketing company that handles Egged advertising across the country.

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The haredi communities in both these places have seriously damaged buses with photos of women on them, including throwing rocks, dousing the exterior of the bus with paint and, in an extreme example, setting an empty bus on fire.

Yerushalmim, a political group whose aim is to promote pluralism and equal rights for women, is trying to challenge this rule with an advertising campaign called “Women of Jerusalem, Nice to Meet You.”

The group purchased advertising space on Egged buses and photographed women from a variety of different backgrounds and ages wearing modest clothes, with the goal of “reclaiming the public sphere,” said Yerushalmim community organizer Marik Shtern.

Cnaan, a private company, initially refused the advertisements on buses and suggested the group buy advertising space on city bridges instead.

When Yerushalmim charged that the company was discriminating against women and threatened court action, Cnaan agreed to allow the advertisements on buses, with the condition that the group pay a NIS 50,000 deposit against damages incurred as a result of the advertisements featuring women.

“Buses are the last place in Jerusalem, and even the whole country, that are refusing [to use advertisements featuring women],” said Shtern. “It’s part of the public sphere, and we’re not ready for it to be a censored place.”

Allowing only male models on buses, Shtern argued, “is a gift to the haredim for extremism… this is the way that they’re controlling the public.”

A month-and-a-half ago, Yerushalmim successfully mounted a campaign to have more women featured on posters and advertisements around the city by purchasing spots on municipality community boards featuring women.

Shtern said they wanted to focus specifically on buses with this campaign.

But Cnaan countered that the refusal stemmed from an economic desire to protect their bottom line rather than an attempt to censor women.

“We’re a private company, a business, and we’re trying to make money,” said Ohad Givli, the national vice president of marketing for Cnaan. “We stop the moment that we see situations that will cause us financial damage. It’s not against them, because in every other place Cnaan puts up advertisements with women.”

Givli said damage against the buses ranged from thousands of shekels for replacing a window broken by a rock or repainting a bus that had paint thrown at it, to hundreds of thousands of shekels for the bus that was burned four years ago because it depicted an advertisement of a mother with her son.

Cnaan has also refused to run other campaigns that they deemed would be offensive to certain populations.

Last year, Cnaan refused an advertising campaign from the Ir Amim organization about the lack of public transportation in east Jerusalem. This is the first time that the company has suggested that a client give them a deposit against damages incurred by the ultra- Orthodox.

“I need to pay for the fact that there’s haredi violence?” asked Shtern. “If there’s violence, the police needs to take care of it. But they can’t not have pictures because of the possibility of vandalism,” he added.

Shtern said the group was looking into taking the company to court over their insistence on the deposit.

On Friday, a large march protesting the discrimination against women is planned in Jerusalem under the banner of “Women Demand Social Justice.”

“Our government is dealing with a nuclear threat from Iran, and they will have to start dealing with the threat from within Israel, in order that we don’t find ourselves in the same situation as the women in Iran,” said march organizer Liran Shalish, a student at Ben-Gurion University.

Eight hundred people have already confirmed their participation on Facebook.

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