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Friday, December 30, 2011

Israel doesn't really want to end gender segregation

 Published 03:37 29.12.11 Latest update 03:37 29.12.11

Walking in the streets of a big city at night is dangerous, and not only for girls - much more dangerous than in Beit Shemesh. Which collective is held responsible for that?

By Israel Harel

Are we really interested in ending gender segregation in Haredi (ultra-Orthodox ) society, or any of the similar and even graver ills that exist in that society, as well as others? Not likely. From the strident tones of the past few days, one can safely assume that the goal of most of the critics, including the religious ones, is Haredi-bashing, pure and simple.

Most social ills happen because, as the Bible puts in, "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes." And it is not at all clear that the ultra-Orthodox community is taking greater advantage than others of the lack of reverence for sovereignty.

Beit Shemesh protests - Michal Fattal Protesters at Beit Shemesh last week.
Photo by: Michal Fattal

But the Haredim are subject to different laws than everyone else - except, perhaps, the settlers. How easy it is to unite against them, especially during Hanukkah, and sing with great feeling that old holiday favorite, "Banu Hoshech Legaresh," "We have come to banish darkness."

The violent sect in Beit Shemesh could have been dealt with while it was still small and weak. However, there were weaker parties: the police, the municipal authorities and the silent majority of its residents. Now that the media has woken us all up, what should have been done years ago but wasn't will finally be done in Beit Shemesh and beyond.

The weeds that grew in the gardens of the settlement movement should also have been nipped in the bud. But there too, there was no hurry. Yet amazingly, only two weeks after an attack on soldiers sparked a public outcry, there are persuasive signs that the police have begun to act decisively.

Problems similarly in need of eradication, but on an incomparably greater scale, also exist in other communities. But political correctness accords greater import to the segregation of women in Haredi society than to emotional abuse, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse and pornography in other communities.

This political correctness certainly bars open discussion of serious problems in Arab and Bedouin society (such as polygamy, which the law clearly prohibits; marriage between close relatives; female genital mutilation, etc. ). It's not even permissible - and this is self-evident - to discuss incidents of Arabs and Bedouin enticing Jewish girls from peripheral communities and poor homes to leave their parents and move to Arab villages, though this is kidnapping in every sense of the word when the girl is a minor.

Although this phenomenon is well known, it is rarely reported, and the police and welfare authorities rarely take action even when parents file complaints. Nor is anyone as interested in the stories of those girls who manage to flee psychological, physical and sexual abuse as they were in the story of Naama Margolese last week (not to mention the fact that the abusers are never indicted ). Why?

Walking in the streets of a big city at night is dangerous, and not only for girls - much more dangerous than in Beit Shemesh. Which collective is held responsible for that? Which public leaders are blamed, or at least required to explain? Why are only the ultra-Orthodox and the settlers collectively to blame for what happens in their back yards, while people in Tel Aviv, or the intellectuals who are perceived as their spiritual fathers, are never accused of bearing responsibility as rabbis are? Why is an accusing finger pointed at the collective in Beit Shemesh, while severe problems in other places are orphans, with no educational or public fathers?

The main problem for which the ultra-Orthodox can be collectively blamed, and their rabbis held responsible, is the degeneration to which they have sentenced themselves, of which segregation is only one symptom. But the productive part of society must ask itself: Why does it docilely accept and fund this ongoing decline? Why, in response to this burden and this injustice, does a protest movement not rise up, the way it did against the cost of housing, and a "million-person demonstration" not take place?

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