I had an interesting back-and-forth with Echidne on the case of Tanya Rosenblit, who was hassled on an Israeli bus because she refused a demand by an ultra-Orthodox Jew that she sit in the back. Revital Blumenfeld, Haaretz:
A woman passenger on a public bus from Ashdod to Jerusalem Friday was told by an ultra-Orthodox male passenger to move to the back of the bus. The man held the door of the bus open and would not allow it to move for approximately 30 minutes.
When other passengers began to complain about the delay, the driver called the police. The policeman who arrived on the scene spoke with the man and then also asked the woman, Tanya Rosenblit, to move to the back of the bus. When she refused, the man who had been holding the door alighted and the bus continued on its way.
This has caused an explosion of comparisons to Rosa Parks, which I said I thought was an overblown comparison. Parks’ action occurred in 1955, before the Civil Rights movement had gained substantial white support. Parks was arrested and booked. She lost her job and was forced to move. But in that era and that place, she could just as easily have been lynched. And, perhaps central to understanding the issue, Parks placed herself in resistance against an established system; Jim Crow was the law. Rosenblit was behaving lawfully, and the man who harassed her was acting as a radical disruptor of the established order.
Echidne pointed to a passage in what I think was an excerpt from DemocracyNow:
The act of defiance has sparked a national discussion in Israel on the issue of gender segregation. On Monday, the disagreement turned violent when ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh clashed with police. Hundreds of men in the ultra-Orthodox community took part in the unrest. Members of local news crews were reportedly hurt in the clashes, and at least six Beit Shemesh residents were arrested. An estimated 10,000 people are expected to turn out in the community today to protest the exclusion of women, as well as violence against girls and women by Haredi extremists.
and Echidne asked whether violence against women might not be a factor in Rosenblit’s resistance. I was not sure, so I said that if it were, it might make the comparison to Parks a little bit closer, but still: Parks couldn’t choose to become white, while ultra-Orthodox women can leave their communities, and it’s highly unlikely that an ultra-Orthodox woman could be assassinated for defiance. Echidne countered by asking whether it’s not true that women in ultra-Orthodox families are deliberately not educated in skills that would make it possible for them to leave. Good point. It’s obviously something to read up on.
And I found some fascinating things. Here’s the description by Oz Rosenberg, Nir Hasson, Revital Blumenfeld, Barak Ravid and Talila Nesher of Haaretz of the Beit Shemesh clashes:
About 10,000 people came to Beit Shemesh last night to protest against religious extremism in Israel in general and this Jerusalem-area city in particular. The issue came to a head publicly after television coverage last week showing ultra-Orthodox extremists harassing Na’ama Margolese, 8, the daughter of immigrants from North America. The rally took place next to her school, Orot Banot.
Margolese became a focus of attention after Channel 2 news broadcast a story Friday night showing her facing a gauntlet of abuse from Haredi men and boys as she walked to school.
This has forced Netanyahu to at least take verbal action. Herb Keinon, JPost:
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu directed Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch Saturday to get the police to aggressively take action to combat violence by extremist haredim (ultra-Orthodox) against women.
Netanyahu phoned Aharonovitch following a Friday night Channel 2 report showing an eight-year old modern orthodox girl afraid to walk 300 meters to school because of harassment from some haredim because of her attire. The report interviewed a haredi man saying it was permissible to spit at even a school age girl if she was not dressed “properly.”
However, violence against women by the haredim is apparently a relatively recent phenomenon, one that I had been unaware of. Writing in YNET in 2009, Elana Sztokman says:
[T]his year, something has changed. There is something about trends in violence against women in Israel that make me feel truly unsafe. Violence against women has become part of the public display in parts of Israel. It has become acceptable in some areas, and legitimized. Women who are beaten, spat upon, thrown acid upon – all in public – are cast aside. The perpetrating men are heroes and the women are left to lick their wounds, in private, alone.
The reason why this is so frightening is precisely because it is so public. There is no fear – no fear of the law, no fear of retribution, and clearly no fear of women fighting back.
And it’s not clear how widespread Sztokman’s experience is. A Google News search shows only 38 results from 2008-10 for haredi violence women. There are 108 more in 2011 through December 15th. Switching to UltraOrthodox violence women increases the hits to 549 in 2011 through December 15th, but many or most have nothing to do with violence against women. This story from October, 2011, for example, talks about vandalism directed against stores, not against women (though one of the alleged motivations for the violence is “insufficiently modest” dress for women).
Finally, this blog says that the response to Rosenblit’s defiance is that the ultra-Orthodox are going to create their own, separate bus system. Like the formation of white-only private schools in the post-1964 era, this sort of solution delights me, amounting to a self-imposed fine on hatred.
In summary, I don’t think Tanya Rosenblit should be compared to Rosa Parks. Rosenblit is clearly courageous and violence is clearly a growing issue. But there the comparison ends. Israel is clearly facing a backlash against what had been progressive treatment of (Israeli) women, and the law is on Rosenblit’s side.
Still, Echidne raised important points to understanding the issue,challenging me to read up on things. That’s the value of online community: we’re able to query one another and inspire one another to actually learn a thing or two.