(photo credit: UBIZHUTAN FACEBOOK PAGE)
The Lod District Court has ordered Yated Ne’eman, the highest-circulating haredi daily newspaper, to publish an election campaign advertisement from U’bezchutan, a party seeking the haredi women’s vote.
The decision was made on Friday, but the newspaper has appealed, casting into doubt whether or not it will be forced to print the ad before election day on Tuesday. An appeal hearing has yet to be scheduled.
U’bezchutan, led by Ruth Colian, has objected to the lack of any women on any of the electoral lists of the haredi parties – Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yahad – saying the needs and concerns of haredi women are not being addressed by the male MKs in the different ultra-Orthodox parties.
Colian, therefore, has called on haredi women to vote for her party so they can receive appropriate political representation and, as part of her campaign, has sought to place election ads in various haredi newspapers and media outlets, including Yated Ne’eman, the mouthpiece of Degel Hatorah and Yom L’Yom, Shas’s paper.
However, U’bezchutan’s ads have been rejected by several haredi media outlets, including Yated Ne’eman, leading the party to sue the newspaper with the help of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women and the Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ) advocacy and lobbying groups.
“We are talking about a notice of a public nature specifically for women from the haredi sector, and which has not insignificant public importance, which is perhaps even enhanced due to the prohibition of discrimination and the principle of equality in elections,” said Judge Yaakov Shefser who presided over the case.
The judge rejected the argument of Yated’s defense team that such advertisements would offend the feelings of the paper’s readers, and said the refusal of Yated to publish U’bezchutan’s ads constituted “severe and irrevocable damage to the plaintiff, impeding her right to gain awareness among her target electorate and her right to equality, and possibly even her ability to be elected to Knesset.”
The judge said advertisement in the press constitutes a public service that has definite influence, and that the publication of relevant information to voters ahead of elections was “a critical means of guaranteeing a proper democratic process.”
Shefser said this was especially important in the haredi sector in which printed media is often the only means of access to news coverage to many people given the restrictions the community places on Internet access.
Colian herself has argued that the exposure of U’bezchutan to haredi women has been severely impeded since many women do not have access to online advertising and other forms of information because Internet access is frequently restricted in the haredi world for anything outside of employment and career requirements.
The judge accepted Colian’s claims and, in a rare step, issued a writ requiring Yated Ne’eman to publicize at least one election advertisement from U’bezchutan by the evening of March 17, 2015, election day.
Colian said the refusal by Yated Ne’eman to publish U’bezchutan’s ads had prevented the party from reaching its target electorate and forced it to spend time on legal battles instead of campaign activities.
Professor Ruth Halperin- Kaddari, the chairwoman of the Rackman Center, which represented U’bezchutan along with the CWJ, described the saga as “the pinnacle of the phenomenon of discrimination against women,” saying that “not only are women being prevented from exercising their basic civil right to run and be elected to [the] Knesset, but they are also being denied the equal opportunity to bring to the awareness of their potential voters the fact that they are running [for election].”
Halperin-Kaddar said the ruling established that discrimination against women was not legitimate and that the haredi press was obligated to recognize the existence of the haredi women’s party.