A Black Mark on the Israeli Society, One That We Must Erase

Forbidden pavements for women. Sounds like a science fiction movie featuring an especially grim, hallucinatory reality. Yet this is a reality. And this kind of reality, in the State of Israel, in the 21st century, puts a black mark on the Israeli society.
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The following comes from remarks delivered at the Beit Shemesh demonstration against ultra-orthodox calls for gender segregation in Israel, on December 27, 2011 in Beit Shemesh, Israel.

Forbidden pavements for women. Sounds like a science fiction movie featuring an especially grim, hallucinatory reality. Yet this is a reality. And this kind of reality, in the State of Israel, in the 21st century, puts a black mark on the Israeli society, one that we must erase.

This is our country. It belongs to all of us. Its public space, like its natural resources, like its air -- belong to all of us. Forbidding a group of women from participating in this space, from being in it -- because of their religion, their nationality, their color, their poverty, their gender -- is an inhumane, immoral, un-Israeli and un-Jewish deed. Preventing the liberty of movement from a group of people is like preventing their right to breath. In a modern democratic state, this kind of exclusion will not stand. A woman who commits adultery gets stoned to death in Iran. A woman can't drive a car in Saudi Arabia, and those who violate the law are facing flagellation. The State of Israel is lightyears ahed of these countries. We are democratic, vibrant, pluralistic and a daring state. The sunlight burns and brightens up all of this. The freedom of speech absolute. And when an injustice like this occurs, you rise up, call "no more," and charge down here in multitudes, in a glorious act of protest. Unlike under dictatorships, here we don't fear the police; The police protects us. We don't fear the army; All of us, most of us, have done our service in it. Here, citizens don't fear the government. Here, when the government doesn't fulfill its duties -- citizens demand those duties be fulfilled. And when a government denies its duties -- it's being replaced!

The sovereign government has a profound responsibility over its citizens. Over the fair distribution of resources, over security, the dignity of labor, a rooftop over our heads, healthcare, the rule of law -- and indeed -- first and foremost over our freedoms. Our freedom to freely travel in the public space, unrestrained and fearless.

We are a diverse country, lively and fascinating, with infinite flavors. A true leadership's complex mission is to find the strings that hold us together, to find our common ethos, the "we." Not to let us live on the verge of cleavage and hatred, even when it's popular to do. This can't be done without a sturdy state, a kingdom. An assertive one. One that enforces its rules and its core values. One that forbids and punishes discriminatory acts and violence. The multi-cultural approach mustn't reach the extreme, by saying that some cultures need to have it their way, and others should accept that. And since the exclusion of women has raised its head -- we must stand against it and wage a defensive war upon it, until its defeat. Every society has many flavors, traditions and cultural approaches, and that's beautiful, and standardized norms shouldn't be forced upon all. But some boundaries of morality are not to be compromised on. Women's humiliation and degradation cross these boundaries, and in Beit Shemesh -- we came to drive away this darkness.

Neither the bible, nor the oral tradition or the late Halacha say that women should be externalized. This is a wild interpretation. The vast majority of Israeli society: seculars, conservative jews, orthodox or ultra-orthodox -- reject and strongly denounce this.

Hanukkah is a holiday of rebellion and womanhood. Its struggle's heroes were women. Strong women. Miriam, daughter of Matityahu; Yehudit; Queen Shelomtzion. Women who challenged, ruled and dominated. Women's fight over their place in society is a an enduring, tedious and an unpopular one. It's always situated at the fringes of public discourse. Feminism was never in fashion. Women earn less, are more exposed to inherent violence, and they are far too less represented in circles of power. They are effectively excluded not only from "Mehadrin" buses, but also, and less bluntly, in the secular world. This extremely harsh turning point, when women are brought back hundreds of years, to the rear of the bus, to the rear of public life -- brings with it a great opportunity -- precisely because of its gravity. Opportunity -- because darkness has been brightened by a magnificent light. Opportunity, because you: women and men alike, are standing here and call "no more." It's time to claim justice and equality.

This isn't a fight between left and right. Nor it is between socialists and capitalists. Nor it is, in any way, seculars' fight against the religious. It is a cross-boundaries battle, of every person, every Jew, every Israeli, of everyone who loves this country and cares for its moral character.

It is a fight we must win. Have a happy holiday.