Meretz warns Bnei Brak: Allow women on billboards or we’ll sue

Religious women’s NGO may sue city for banning ad that encourages early detection of breast cancer.

The controversial ad consists only of text and does not use the word “breast” or “cancer,” only “early detection.” (photo credit: MERETZ)
The controversial ad consists only of text and does not use the word “breast” or “cancer,” only “early detection.”
(photo credit: MERETZ)
Meretz plans to sue the Bnei Brak Municipality if it does not allow women’s faces to appear on billboards in the city, the party wrote in a letter on Monday.
 
Last week, a billboard with a photo of Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg was blocked from being installed near the Ayalon Mall on the Ramat Gan-Bnei Brak border and in the Geha Intersection on the Petah Tikva-Bnei Brak border. The sign featured Zandberg’s face and that of Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich with the message: “Where are you for Shabbat? With me or with him? Most Israelis think Meretz.”

“Inequality in [election] propaganda and excluding women violates equality in the election,” the letter reads. “You must accept the possibility of women running in elections in Israel and allow them to advertise in public. This is true even more so when the advertisement is respectful and not provocative.”

Meretz also released a video in which billboards featuring prominent Israeli women, including Nobel Prize Winner Ada Yonath, Olympic medal-winning judoka Yael Arad, Eurovision Song Contest winner Netta Barzilai and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, were erased.

“They want an Israel in which women cannot represent us,” Zandberg said. “Let’s not be mistaken, when they remove women from signs, they’re erasing women from campuses and they’re silencing violence against women. It’s not about my face, it’s about all of us.”

Zandberg said she sees Israel as a place where women “don’t ask anyone where we can make our voices heard. We are leaders... We are simply equal.”

Over the weekend, a group of Israeli businesspeople sponsored billboards calling for center-left leaders to work together, with the message, “Without unity, the vote is lost.” Most of the billboards feature Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni, but she was removed from one billboard in Bnei Brak on the border with Tel Aviv, which happens to be on Livni’s route from her home to the supermarket.

“You understand, it’s not my face they want to remove, but the faces of you the women of Israel, over 50% of the population,” Livni said.

Chochmat Nashim, an organization meant to combat the growing exclusion of women from the Orthodox Jewish world, is also gearing up to sue Bnei Brak, as well as female haredi activist Ruth Colian.

The NGO plans to send a letter to the Bnei Brak Municipality on Tuesday, demanding that it allow them to put up billboards encouraging breast cancer awareness.

“Dear woman, protecting your health is a commandment from the Torah. It is a holy requirement,” the billboards read, calling for women to see a doctor. The ad consists only of text and does not use the word “breast” or “cancer,” only “early detection.” The organization said they have received over 250 calls after the ads went up in other haredi (ultra-Orthodox) areas.

Bnei Brak rejected the ad campaign in 2017 on the grounds that the ads could “cause panic and offense to the haredi public’s sensitivities, since such ads could raise questions from children and youths in a subject that requires modesty, which is central to every haredi person.”

Since municipal elections took place in October, Chochmat Nashim wants to give the new Bnei Brak City Council a chance to change its stance. However, should the ads be rejected again, they plan to sue.

“They can’t stop a public campaign by women’s health by saying it’s immodest,” Chochmat Nashim co-founder Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll lamented.