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Burqa ban bill squashed. Now onto real gender equality?

On Sunday, nrg reported (Heb), a bill that would have banned wearing burqas in certain situations was unanimously opposed by a government Ministerial Committee on legislation.

It is not entirely a surprise that the bill was proposed by Kadima MK Marina Solodkin. In proposing this bill, Kadima placed itself even outside the range of hard-line Foreign Minister Lieberman (Heb) who has stated his opposition to such a bill.

The issue of burqas is tricky for feminists. Even if I can imagine some logic in the bill’s proposal to ban the burqa in government offices (think courtrooms, or the Interior Ministry), the bill went further – it would prohibit wearing the burqa on public transportation or in entertainment venues. Even champions of women’s rights who view the burqa as a form of oppression would have to confront the serious danger of limiting the democratic right to free expression. But that doesn’t bother Kadima. Party members such as Ronit Tirosh have initiated anti-democratic legislation in the past. Its MK Otniel Schneller has never shown particularly great interest in such rights:

“In a society that preaches the sanctity of freedom of information and individual rights, and views them as values trumping the interests of the state,” said Schneller, insinuating that such rights were an off-putting concept, “no one should be surprised when we find in our own society the rotten fruits [of this worldview].”

Solodkin’s argument for the bill was twofold: First, she believes (Heb), burqas pose a security threat (as if a terrorist bent on destruction needs a burqa to do so – to my memory there has never been such a bomb-in-a-burqa case in Israel). Second, burqas widen the inequalities between men and women, she says. I certainly support the latter argument. But I am surprised to see this coming from a member of the party whose MK Yulia Shamalov-Berkowitz unleashed the true force of her anti-woman sentiments, speaking recently at a conference of an anti-feminist lobby group. She drew fire from a few even in her own party, but the fact is, Kadima is her home.

Back in July, Haaretz reported a slightly different rationale:

According to the legislator proposing the law, Kadima MK Marina Solodkin, its primary purpose is to liberate women from irrational religious restrictions.

I think that it’s very nice that Solodkin cares so much about “irrational religious restrictions,” but like my colleague Noam, I find it hard to believe that her putative feminism applies beyond Arabs.  Now that this bill has failed, maybe she could turn her attention to the absurdity that personal status laws (such as marriage, divorce, burial) are exclusively subject to religious courts; that women can be refused a divorce for decades, prevented from marrying legally, and their lives truncated because of the irrational chauvinistic religious bias of the rabbinate. How about the irrational restriction that women should sit at the back of the bus, as a petition to the Supreme Court requested not long ago? (The Court, as reported in Haaretz gave the strange ruling that such segregation is in fact legal, if the passengers consent – not exactly a resounding ‘no.’) Those are some pretty oppressive restrictions.

Or maybe  Solodkin could address unequal resource, funds, or land distribution in Israeli society based on religious identity of its citizens, favoring Jews above everyone else. That seems pretty irrational too.

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    1. Stella Goldschlag

      I am a postzionist Jewish woman, and I have taken to wearing a burka as well. There are burkas of extra sheer fabric that allows ventilation, so we dont get so hot. It is also liberating not to have israeli men leer at you. The burka is the ultimate feminine garment-it tells the world that my body belongs only to me

      Reply to Comment
    2. Stella, that’s what i mean. There is not one easy, catch-cut argument for or against the burqa and I wouldn’t want your right to wear it on a bus curtailed.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Being a left wing feminist in Israel (assuming there are any right wing feminists) is growing extremely difficult today.
      Do I support burqas? of course not. On the other hand, religious jewish women are also essentially forced to cover up head-to-toe, making this law not feminist but racist/discriminatory.
      The same problem, for example, applies to recognizing the Palestinians’s national aspirations. Do i support that? Yes. Do i have an interest, as a feminist, in aiding the creation of yet another patriarchal regime that will suppress its women? No.
      The examples can go on, I don’t know the answer, I just know that this law does not have women rights in mind, even in the slightest.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Tahel, I agree – basically your quandary is my point exactly. One thing: I think that it is legitimate to be a feminist and also be right wing on economic or national issues. Although personally to do so would contradict the values at the root of my own world view.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Lina

      I agree with Tahel Ilan’s comment.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Stella Goldschlag

      Tahel, I wouldnt dismiss the burqa without trying it on. Wearing a burka is win-win for the following reasons. First, it keeps the prying eyes of israeli “men” off of our bodies. Second, it expresses solidarity with our Palestinian sisters. Imagine if all the Jewish women protesting at Sheikh Jarrah or Bilin wore burqas. That would be a powerful statement

      Reply to Comment
    7. I recommend this pertinent article on Western misunderstandings of the burqa by Columbia professor of anthropology, Lila Abu Lughod, and a former lecturer at NYU – where I was her student for two semesters.

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    8. @stella: was that sarcastic?
      or are you actually advocating for women to wear burqas (1) to solve the male prying problem and (2) to oppress themselves so that other oppressed women would feel better ???
      these answers seem pretty trivial to me but here u go:
      (1) that’s like telling women to cover up so they wont turn men on and increase their chance of being sexually assaulted
      (2) how does your brain create such a logic in which u solve an oppression of one group by trying to get the rest to enforce this oppression on themselves?
      Stella, (1) Get a grip! (2) Please don’t move to Africa- for your own sake. Id hate for you to have to subject yourself to FGM in order to identify with the millions of oppressed women there.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Carmen

      Isn’t it obvious that Stella is mocking the authors of this blog? The sad part is that one of the authors agreed with her first statement.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Stella Goldschlag

      Carmen, I am not mocking this blog. I think that the authors and respondents have not gone far enough, ie no formal calls for BDS. If you see a Jewish woman in a burqa at Sheikh Jarrah or Bilin, thats me

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ilana, can you please provide the full reference to the article you cited? it sounds really useful and I’d like to read it. Thanks.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Ilana Sebba

      1.- This is not the BDS forum.
      2.- Are we to assume that only israeli men leer?
      No other men leer, and act disrespectfully towards women?

      Reply to Comment