Haredi bus protest with women 311 .
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
While the names are fictitious, the events that take place in the following two stories are entirely true:
Noam left the Sports Center in Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus after his usual session at the gym. A woman who had also just finished her workout was walking in front of him, heading towards the dormitories of Hebrew University. After a few moments she was accosted by four Arab youth from the neighboring village of Isawiyya. The young men shouted at the woman, attempted to block her path and then called her a “whore” in Arabic. She was forced to cross to the other side of the street and walk briskly away. Noam called the police to report the incident, but apparently Israel’s law enforcement has little time for cases of minor sexual harassment.
It was only later, when Noam mentioned to the police that the same men had robbed flowers from the British cemetery next to Hadassah hospital, did they choose to react and a border police unit was dispatched.
Sadly, these types of events have become all too common on the streets surrounding the university, the dormitories, and French hill. Since 2010, the student newspaper Pei Ha’Aton has run several items covering such events. Following one incident, a student wrote in the comments section of the newspaper that “Mount Scopus is beginning to resemble a miniature intifada. Among other things, women repeatedly suffer sexual harassment on their way to the dorms.”
End of story.
The second story involves Sara, who had the misfortune of being a perverse stalker’s target over the course of 3 months. The man in question would call Sara up to 40 times a day from a blocked number, referring to her by name while making unseemly sexually-related comments. Naturally, Sara went to the police to file a complaint. The police promised to send the file onto the relevant authority in her jurisdiction, and also promised a follow-up.
3 weeks later, when Sara hadn’t heard anything, she contacted the police station herself and after a goose chase that involved calling 3 different stations and visiting 2 others, Sara finally tracked down her file – only to find out that it had been closed.
And the reason that was given for closing the file?
Quite simply, the number of the caller was listed as unknown. Incredulous, Sara headed for the police station that claims to specialize in sexual harassment cases, and only after flirting (!) with a string of policemen was she finally granted an audience with an investigator. The investigator - a female - listened to Sara’s story with little sympathy and shrugged her shoulders as she told Sara that because of the frequency of such incidents, most sexual harassment cases of this kind are closed without ever being investigated.
At one point Sara’s account really becomes stranger than fiction. The investigator told Sara that she would like to set her up with her own son. Sara was stupefied and made some comment about the irony of making a complaint against one stranger only to be matched with another. Sara insisted that she was not interested but the investigator persisted.
However, Sara soon realized that in order to receive the “proper” attention regarding her stalker, she had no choice but to play ball. She agreed to write down the investigator’s son’s number in the hope that the investigator would give Sara her own mobile number in return. The ploy was only because Sara couldn’t bear the thought of either being shouted at by police clerks, or having to flirt with other policemen when the time would come for her to follow up on her file.
So the police have little time for cases of minor sexual harassment? Well, as recent events in the media will testify, that too seems to be a lark.
This past Thursday, undercover police were operating in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem. It still isn’t clear if their presence there was solely for the purpose of catching potential harassers of “immodestly” dressed women, but nonetheless, around 8pm, the policemen arrested Ze’ev Frank. Frank was accused of calling a woman a “slut” and as a result has now been charged with sexual harassment. In a video that was shown on Channel 2, the police are shown bundling Frank into an unmarked car and rushing away.
While Frank’s actions are certainly deserving of intervention, there is no viable reason for the police to have any more concern regarding this particular case of sexual harassment over others – such as the two cases cited above - that are arguably more shocking in nature.
Why then, is the wellbeing of a woman on Mount Scopus or French Hill, or even Tel Aviv for that matter, worth less than it is in Mea Shearim?
The secular community’s outrage at the discrimination against women in the haredi sector is obviously a trigger for the recent police actions. But a plethora of questions arise when one considers the seemingly disproportionate outrage directed at the Orthodox community.
For instance, the secular community has made its grumblings about segregation and exclusion of women in the religious community perfectly clear. But why is there so little outspokenness on the part of the secular community against abominable infringements on women’s rights in other sectors within Israeli society? Take, for example, the largely unnoticed sex industry in Tel Aviv that is widespread and is freely advertised on the streets. One cannot park their car in Tel Aviv or walk down a sidewalk without running into “business cards” that advertise “body massage” or “an angelic experience” courtesy of some scantily-clad female?
How can it be that the issue of women who are asked to sit in the back of a bus can possibly take precedence - and garner more media attention - than women who are being sold like packaged steak on a daily basis? Or how about those women in the Israeli-Arab community who are beaten by neighbors or relatives – simply for the sin of exposing a little too much flesh? Is a community that tolerates the selling or beating of women segregating and isolating those women any less than a community that objects to mixing the sexes?
What is apparent from the recent spate of anti-Orthodox articles - whether it’s the labeling of haredim as parasites, or saying “they breed like cockroaches,” or that they “ruin the majority’s life,” (the latter being what Amir Oren wrote in Haaretz) - is that Israel is experiencing a wave of incitement that is largely misdirected and entirely hypocritical - on so many levels. As MK Shelly Yacimovich rightly stated, the cockroach comment was “inappropriate for airing” and was “nothing but racist incitement [and] it is unacceptable that such a statement would be uttered by an Israeli citizen about any part of the population in Israel.”
Yet accepted it was. Simply because in Israel there is a double standard
when it comes to the treatment of haredim - both with regards to law
enforcement and media portrayal. It’s time for the secular community to
call a spade a spade and admit that its outrage is not directed at
women’s rights within the haredi community, rather it is directed at the
haredi community itself.
Not only does the secular community treat women badly by tolerating the
sex trade (especially the sex slave trade, which unfortunately is also
rife in Israel), but the police are not remedying matters by
concentrating their undercover efforts at ferreting out only the
“milder” cases of harassment in neighborhoods like Mea Shearim. The
police should extend the same protection to secular Arab women who are
harassed for walking down the street in their own communities, to Jewish
women who merely want to go the gym on French Hill without being called
names, and certainly to those women who have themselves sought police
protection after being sexually harassed.