Haredi women vote in the 2013 elections..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Pressure on the ultra-Orthodox parties has been growing in recent years to allow women to run for election on their municipal and national lists, and this pressure is now beginning to tell, with the High Court of Justice looking seriously at the issue.
A petition to the High Court brought by 10 women’s rights NGOs and represented by the Itach Maaki Women Lawyers for Social Justice organization representing Haredi women and others organizations was heard briefly on Wednesday morning, before the justices asked that the judicial panel be expanded due to the importance of the petition.
The petition was originally filed two years ago, and in October 2016, the court ordered Agudat Yisrael, the Haredi political party representing the hassidic community, and the state to explain why it should not ban the clauses in its regulations banning women from being members of the party.
The decision to increase the size of the panel indicates that the High Court is taking the petition very seriously and sees it as substantive and worthy of in-depth consideration.
Without the ability to join the party as members, women are unable to hold office within the party or to be candidates in municipal and national elections.
Esti Shushan, a Haredi activist for female representation in the Haredi parties and founder of the Nivcharot activist organization, said that although the internal cultural battle would be harder to win than the legal one, it was nevertheless critical to remove the formal impediment to women’s representation in the political parties.
“The cultural issue of women in leadership is harder, but at the very least this humiliating clause against women membership should not appear in the party regulations,” Shushan told The Jerusalem Post.
“I want to know that my country doesn’t agree with such a policy. When there will be this clear statement, women will be less afraid to demand representation, that’s what I want to believe,” she continued.
Shushan said that she is “not naive” and acknowledges that even should the High Court order Agudat Yisrael to remove the clause from its regulations, large numbers of Haredi women will not all of a sudden be accepted into the party organs or electoral lists.
She said however women obtaining political representation in the Haredi parties would be a long-term process, and that the legal situation needed to be rectified in order to allow that process to begin and develop.
Shushan acknowledges that the impetus behind the campaign for greater political influence for Haredi women comes from so-called “modern Haredi” elements in the community, those who are more likely to have obtained a higher education and quality employment.
Nonetheless, she insists that even this sector of the Haredi community votes for United Torah Judaism, the Knesset faction to which Agudat Yisrael belongs, and deserves representation.
“If we are voting for these parties, and I have voted for many years for Shas, then why can’t we be represented?” she asks.
Shushan has however stopped voting for Shas, because it, like Agudah, prevents women from running for office.
“No representation, no vote,” she says. “If we’re not good enough to be representatives, then we’re not willing to vote for them.” A separate petition has been filed against Shas.
Agudat Yisrael has argued in its response that any woman who wants to serve as a political representative of the party automatically demonstrates that her values and lifestyle are not commensurate with those of Haredi Judaism, and that since the party is specifically designed to represent Haredi Jews, this should prohibit her from gaining party membership.
The party also argues that the petitioners are not interested in gaining membership in Agudat Yisrael, but rather want to impose their values on the party from outside it.